Reporter Peter Baker gave President Obama credit for outclassing previous presidents by taking responsibility for something - the BP oil spill in the Gulf - in Friday's A1 "Regret Mixed With Resolve - President Concedes Mistakes on Oil Spill ."
Baker argued that Obama may have already solved his political problem with the BP spill, even though the president's version of taking responsibility involved faulting himself for not sufficiently grasping the corruption left by the Bush administration.
President Obama uttered three words on Thursday that many of his 43 predecessors twisted themselves into knots trying with varying degrees of success to avoid: "I was wrong."
Is Baker too easily impressed?
The mix of resolve and regret served to erect a political berm that advisers hope may contain the damage from a five-week-old crisis that has challenged Mr. Obama's presidency. Amid deep public frustration and criticism from both sides of the political aisle, the president sought to assert leadership in response to a slow-motion disaster emanating from a mile beneath the sea.
But critics were not mollified, and Republicans kept up their efforts to equate Mr. Obama's problems in the gulf with President George W. Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A Web video posted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee spliced Mr. Obama's own "never again" words about Katrina together with liberal commentators demanding that he do something about the oil spill.
To his credit, Baker didn't avoid another, less flattering comparison to a previous president:
Still, there were uncomfortable echoes of Katrina. Just as Mr. Bush cast aside Michael Brown, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Obama addressed reporters just hours after S. Elizabeth Birnbaum, his director of the Minerals Management Service, resigned under pressure.
Just as Mr. Bush was criticized for being on vacation in Texas when Katrina bore down on New Orleans, Mr. Obama has been criticized for golfing, fund-raising and, on Thursday night, heading to Chicago for a holiday weekend while oil laps up in the marshes and beaches of Louisiana.
Mr. Obama will try to defuse that by interrupting his Chicago homecoming on Friday for his second day trip to Louisiana. And he pointed a finger at the Bush administration for allowing the Minerals Management Service to get too close to the oil industry, citing an inspector general's report on activity before 2007 "that can only be described as appalling."
But the president's concessions of missteps were striking. Admitting fault, after all, is not a common presidential habit, and happens only under great duress. The passive voice has been a favorite technique. President George Bush said "mistakes were made" during Iran-contra. President Bill Clinton said "mistakes were made" during campaign finance scandals. And President George W. Bush said "mistakes were made" during the firing of federal prosecutors.
Baker argued that "Obama has shown a willingness to admit mistakes before," with "bracing bluntness," like saying "I screwed up," after the debacle over Tom Daschle, who had to withdraw as. nominee for secretary of health and human services for not paying taxes.
He chose his words more carefully on Thursday, but he ticked off a list of ways his administration had not performed adequately. At one point, he suggested the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and touched off the leak might have been avoided had his administration cleaned up what he called the cozy and corrupt relationship between regulators and industry sooner.
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