The culture of responsibility


Geraldine Sealey
April 13, 2004 10:39PM (UTC)

Janet Reno made this mea culpa today before the 9/11 panel, referring to the FBI's failure to share vital information about terrorism cases. "I don't blame anybody. I'm responsible. If somebody wants to be responsible, it's going to be me because I tried to work through these issues while I was attorney general and time ran out on me, and I want to do everything I can to make sure that we move forward in the spirit of cooperation and in a spirit of thoughtfulness."

"I'm responsible." We heard language like that during a previous appearance before the 9/11 commission -- a more dramatic moment, but one that reflected similar humility and willingness to shoulder the burden for the tragically clear failures in government that preceded the 9/11 attacks. It was Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism czar, who said in his opening statement : "Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you. For that failure, I would ask . . . for your understanding and forgiveness."

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Many eyes turned to Condoleezza Rice for something similar. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist denounced Clarke's apology, and an anonymous White House official told the New York Times, "Condi's not going there." And go there she didn't.

In his column this morning in the Washington Post, E.J. Dionne wonders if the president will ever own up to his mistakes. Bush sure thinks other people should own up to theirs. Dionne quotes Bush at a fundraiser last week in Charlotte, N.C.: "We stand for a culture of responsibility in America. We're changing the culture of this country from one that has said, if it feels good, do it, and if you got a problem, blame somebody else, to a culture in which each of us are responsible for the decisions we make in life."

Tonight, President Bush will speak to the nation in a primetime press conference. What a good opportunity to set an example by accepting responsibility for his administration's mistakes. What are the chances he'll take it?


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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