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Obama Admits Own, Bush's Mistakes

February 4, 2009

There can be little doubt that yesterday was the worst day of the fledgling Obama presidency. In a matter of hours, the President saw two key nominees undone by their tax woes. The surprising implosion of Tom Daschle then proceeded to consume an Obama media offensive originally intended to pressure obstructionist Senate Republicans blocking the urgently needed stimulus bill. But even as he wrestled with problems largely of his own making, Barack Obama reminded Americans why they voted for him to replace George W. Bush in the White House. In an act of honesty never mastered by his predecessor, President Obama admitted his mistakes. And in the case of DOJ staffer Leslie Hagen, he moved to correct one of Bush's.
In the wake of Daschle's stunning withdrawal from his proposed dual roles as HHS Secretary and White House health czar, Obama owned up to his obvious failures. He told NBC's Brian Williams that he "absolutely" screwed up and "I'm willing to take my lumps" because the American people need to know there are not "two sets of rules" for those in his administration. Obama summed up his egregious errors and his accountability for them:

"I'm here on television saying I screwed up, and that's part of the era of responsibility. It's not never making mistakes; it's owning up to them and trying to make sure you never repeat them and that's what we intend to do."

The contrast with George W. Bush could not be more stark.
President Bush, as you'll recall, famously could not name a single mistake he had made, even when asked during an April 13, 2004 press conference. A year after the invasion of Iraq and the exploding insurgency there, Bush was flummoxed by the challenge to his infalliblity:

"I'm sure something will pop into my head here...maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one."

Three years later as he announced the troop surge in Iraq, President Bush again evaded responsibility for the quagmire in Iraq - or anything else. Just days after his January 10, 2007 speech to the nation, Bush told Scott Pelley on CBS 60 Minutes that any errors on his watch were purely semantic:

PELLEY: You mention mistakes having been made in your speech. What mistakes are you talking about?
BUSH: You know, we've been through this before. Abu Ghraib was a mistake. Using bad language like, you know, "bring them on" was a mistake. I think history is gonna look back and see a lot of ways we could have done things better. No question about it.

In an December 2008 "exit interview" with ABC's Martha Raddatz, Bush boiled down his refusal to accept blame to two simple words. Confront by Raddatz over the inescapable reality that Al Qaeda was not in Iraq "until after the U.S. invaded," the lame duck President Bush responded:

"Yeah, that's right. So what?"

On one other matter, the Bush administration refused to own up to its wrongdoing and criminality. In October 2006, Monica Goodling, Bush's political commissar in Gonzales Department of Justice, refused to renew the contract of Leslie Hagen. As it turned out, Hagen, the liaison between the Justice Department and the U.S. attorneys' committee on Native American issues, was let go because of her sexual orientation. But while Goodling has yet to be prosecuted for actions a DOJ inspector general deemed "violated Department policy and federal law, and constituted misconduct," the Obama administration hired Hagen back at her old position. This time, her role is permanent.
Of course, while President Obama provided Hagen a remedy for President Bush's wrong, she has yet to receive either compensation for her legal expenses or an apology from anyone at the Bush Department of Justice.
Which goes to show you just one difference between Obama and Bush. Obama takes responsibility for his mistakes and admits, "I screwed up." Bush, for his part, will forever be the "so what" President.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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