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The Buck Stops Here, But It’s All Their Fault

Charles Blow of the New York Times wins today’s disingenuousness award for his column in defense of President Obama. The subject: does President Obama deserve his reputation for blaming either the previous administration or congressional Republicans for the nation’s problems?

Blow huffily responds that this president is, in fact, a latter day Truman, a “habitual blame taker.” For example, President Obama said in a 2013 interview that “ultimately, the buck stops with me.”

But, as Blow neglects to mention, the president immediately added: “And, you know, I’ve said before—and I continue to say—you know, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get Congress—and Republicans in Congress in particular—to think less about politics and party and think more about what’s good for the country.” That is, when it comes to preventing selfish and unpatriotic Republicans from destroying the country, President Obama takes full responsibility.

To be sure, Blow finds other places in which Obama invokes Truman. For example, in 2012, Obama shared what Blow calls “his philosophy of presidential responsibility”: “as president of the United States, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m responsible for folks who are working in the federal government and, you know, the buck stops with you.”

However, as Blow chooses not to say, Obama was there in the midst not of taking responsibility for anything but of demanding that Mitt Romney take the blame for what Bain Capital did when Romney was not actively managing it.

In two of the other six quotations Blow hand-selects to prove that President Obama is positively eager to take responsibility for what happens on his watch, the president is at best holding himself accountable for (some day) cleaning up the mess that somebody else made. Concerning the bonuses A.I.G. executives, the president did say, again, “the buck stops with me,” but only after saying “We’ve got a big mess that we’re having to clean up. Nobody here drafted these contracts. Nobody here was responsible for supervising A.I.G.”

Concerning the slowness of the recovery, here it is again: “the buck stops with me.” President Obama said that in response to Wolf Blitzer, who had just reminded him of a statement he made when he took office: “if I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.” Obama’s responded, “when I came into office, I knew I was going to have a big mess to clean up and frankly, I think the mess has been bigger than I think a lot of people anticipated.” In other words, he took responsibility for pulling America out of the mess the previous administration had made, a responsibility he would perhaps have already fulfilled, he added, were it not for Congress (i.e. the Republicans): “we’re going to need folks to move off some of these rigid positions they’ve been taking in order to solve these problems.”

So in the week Charles Blow presumably spent googling up quotations that would demonstrate “how outrageously untrue” it is that the president rarely takes responsibility for failures, he was able to find exactly two cases in the past six years—one concerning the health-care website—in which President Obama held his administration accountable without blaming a Republican in the next breath.

Of course, President Obama was not to blame for all the problems he inherited. But that we are still discussing the “Bush hangover” in the middle of his second term is a testament less to the scope of the difficulties the country faced when the president took office than to the refusal of this administration to concede that its policies and leadership have anything to do with the foreign and domestic difficulties the country still faces.


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One Response to “The Buck Stops Here, But It’s All Their Fault”

  1. MICHAEL GEBERT says:

    You can tell he doesn’t really mean it when he says it with so many extra conditional words: “As president of the United States, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m responsible for folks who are working in the federal government and, you know, the buck stops with you.”

    Truman managed to just say “The buck stops here.”

    “As the president, it would ultimately be for me to say that the only thing we had to fear, as a people of whom I am the leader, would be fear itself.”




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