Thursday, April 21, 2011

Presidential Mistakes

"There are only two mistakes one can make on the road to truth: not going all the way and not starting."


I thought I was the only one who noticed.

Well, no, not really. I mean, I know there are always people out there who spend most, if not all, of their time waiting for the president — whoever he may be — to make a misstep.

And some presidents make it all too easy.

Seven years ago this month, in a nationally televised press conference, George W. Bush just never could come up with an answer to what should have been an easy out–of–the–park toss: "After 9–11, what would your biggest mistake be, and what lessons have you learned from it?"

Bush never could answer a question that should have been kind of a bonding experience between him and the electorate. Everyone understands what it is like to make a mistake, and even those who disagreed with Bush politically might have conceded — however grudgingly — that they could relate to that experience.

And most prudent people would say they at least tried to learn something from their mistakes.

But Bush never could bring himself to admit that he had made a mistake. He was ridiculed for that — and rightfully so.

I had seen presidents get defensive under similar circumstances (Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" moment comes to mind), but it was the first time that I can recall hearing a president essentially say that he couldn't think of a mistake he had made in office.

Honestly, I didn't think I would ever hear a president say anything like that again.

And then along came Barack Obama.

In his continuing effort to keep young voters enthused about his candidacy, Obama held a town hall meeting yesterday at the Facebook headquarters in California.

In the final question, he was asked if there was anything he would do differently. And, as Byron York wrote in the Washington Examiner, "Obama, it turns out, is no better at analyzing his own missteps than Bush."

I'll grant you, York is a conservative columnist. The fact that he is critical of Obama on this comes as no surprise to me. But he's fair about it. He's critical of Bush, too.

And York isn't the only one to call Obama on his lackluster response. Others in the digital world have been mentioning it today, too.

I'm not as anti–Obama as a lot of those guys are. But I only needed a couple of seconds to come up with an answer to that question — about as much time as it took me to answer that question back in 2004.

Obama should have said something like this: "If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn't have squandered that filibuster–proof majority in the Senate on a Supreme Court nomination and health care reform. I would have focused like a laser beam on job creation because millions of people were hurting when I took office, and they're hurting worse today because of my mistake. I deeply regret that and wish I had it to do over. I knew things were bad, but I didn't understand when I took office just how bad they were."

But Obama didn't say that — or anything like it.

Maybe he doesn't think he is capable of making a mistake.

I think most people, even those who disagree with him, would have accepted that. There is no occupation that can truly prepare someone for the presidency. Almost without exception, our presidents have had to learn the job as they went along. It was inevitable that they would make mistakes, even the ones who are regarded as great by history.

It's a very human thing to acknowledge, and I think it could have been a bonding experience for Obama and the segment of the electorate that doesn't trust him.

But Obama really does appear — at least at times — to be smug and to feel superior to those who disagree with him.

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