President Obama has mastered the art of employing rhetoric that makes it sound as if he’s doing something uniquely virtuous and heroic when in reality he’s doing stuff that political leaders often do. We’ve seen this with the way he touts bipartisanship while being unwilling to offer real compromises or the way he proclaims he isn’t hiring lobbyists when he actually is. But he took this practice to more absurd proportions today when his big Harry Truman “buck stops here” moment was woven together with other statements blaming everybody but his administration for the handling of the AIG bonuses and the broader financial mess.
“Ultimately, I’m responsible, I’m the President of the United States,” Obama declared.
But, instead of taking responsibility, he continued, “We’ve got a big mess that we’re having to clean up. Nobody here drafted those contracts. Nobody here was responsible for supervising AIG and allowing themselves to put the economy at risk by some of the outrageous behavior they are engaged in. We are responsible though, the buck stops with me.”
Asked about the performance of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Obama said: “Tim Geithner didn’t draft these contracts with AIG. There has never been a Secretary of the Treasury except maybe Alexander Hamilton right after the Revolutionary War who’s had to deal with the multiplicity of issues that Secretary Geithner is having to deal with, all at the same time.” He followed up by explaining, “He is making all the right moves in terms of playing a bad hand.”
If Obama wants to say that he inherited a mess, that’s one thing. But to simultaneously cast blame elsewhere, ask to be graded on a curve, and act as if you’re being a bold leader is quite another.
Nonetheless, he got his intended result, with headlines such as UPI’s: “Obama: ‘Buck stops with me’”
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