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When the President "admitted" mistakes ("where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me.") in his speech this week, he (or whomever wrote the line) attempted to quiet his critics who say that he's never admitted a mistake. Doubtless, there was an effort to regurgitate President Truman's "The Buck Stops Here," but Bush's acknowledgment was far from an admission of mistakes he's made nor an assurance that he's learned from them.
Certainly, in the hands of the right wing broadcasting Lords of Loud, any question into the validity of the President's admission will be considered partisan parsing of his words. But it was the President's own decision to deliberately equivocate that calls his apology into question.
If the President ever expects the 70% of the country who distrust his ability to turn things around in Iraq, he must not only personally take responsibility for his mistakes, but he must also explain how he will use those mistakes to make him a better President...and person. Making a wholesale confession for any and all mistakes just distances himself from any real responsibility.
If the President had said, "When I said that we were winning the war two months ago, that was not only a mistake, that was a lie," that would be a real admission. It's a specific taking acceptance of a personal affront to the country. That takes genuine backbone and America loves candor paired with courage. That's what they want in a leader. If he had followed that up with, "and I pledge to not do that again," it would not only take the air out of his critic's charges, but Americans in large numbers would begin to re-trust his words and actions. Of course, he'd have to not lie again, which as a politico, would take some weighty oversight.
This White House seems to have ignored the history and power of failure as not only unavoidable, but entirely necessary for growth. Perhaps President Bush forgets that America was discovered by a great explorer...by mistake.
President Bush had a tremendous opportunity Wednesday night. He walked up to the line but instead of transforming himself into a great leader who could have taught our children that, as the poet Nikki Giovanni wrote, "Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to error that counts," the President chose to depersonalize his accountability. Instead of building hope that we might be able to follow someone who becomes greater for his mistakes, we're left with someone who is afraid to take profound responsibility.
General George Patton said that he "didn't judge a man from how low he falls but how high he bounces when he hits bottom."
Check the polls. President Bush didn't bounce.
Steve Young is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful" and http://www2.dailynews.com/steveyoung">his column appears in the LA Daily News Sunday Opinion page...to the left of O'Reilly's...really.