What the President should have said: Blame me

Yesterday, I wrote about the way in which the “brand” that was applied nearly immediately to the plan for the government to provide liquidity to the nation’s credit markets doomed it: Who in their right mind can support a “bailout” of $700 billion for “Wall Street.”

Bailout and Wall Street are metaphors you don’t want in your corner when you’re in a heavy-weight fight.

Last night, while listening to the President, I (yes, I’m a history wonk) couldn’t help but wonder how it compared to the words Franklin Roosevelt used to describe the credit crisis the current one is being compared to. And so, through the wonders of Google, I spent five seconds tracking it down.

The Roosevelt fireside chat (his first) is one of the most famous Presidential addresses and media milestones in history. Yet listening to it, Franklin stumbles through some lines and puts emphasis on the wrong parts of sentences. It’s not one of his best performances. But evenso, he exudes confidence, credibility and leadership.

At times like these, we want leaders.


We don’t want politicians. We don’t want pundits. We don’t want candidates. We don’t want people who are selling books or who are desperate to appear on TV for any reason. And for god sakes, we don’t want yet another blog post. (Please, you are free to stop reading.)

We want leaders.

What the President should have said

I think the words of President Bush’s statement last night were succinct, rational and informative. Yet in the context of his 30% approval rating, they were unconvincing to 70% of us.

He was trying for FDR. He should have been more Harry Truman, another extremely unpopular President.

I think he should have said the following before launching into the explanation of his plan and why it needs to be enacted:

My friends:

Tomorrow, I have asked the leaders of Congress — Republicans and Democrats — and the two men, one of whom will be President in three months, to join me here at the White House to work together to solve one of the most critical problems that has faced our nation’s economy in many decades. What they do tomorrow can help set the course for economic recovery instead of the course we are currently on — one that leads to consequences I will explain in a moment.

But first, before I do, let me start off by asking that you stop looking for someone to blame for this situation.

Stop blaming members of Congress or Wall Street bankers or foreign investors. And please, especially stop blaming men and women who wanted the chance to live the American dream of home ownership.

Blame me.

I’ve been President for the past eight years and I fully accept the blame. It was on my watch. The buck stops here. As I will explain, this is not a crisis about some rich men on Wall Street or lawmakers who take their campaign contributions. This is a complex issue that is the unintended consequence of many different factors that, when looked at one-by-one, may have made sense.

But when I tried to address these issues in the past, I did not do a good enough job connecting all the dots for the American people. And I was focused on other things that I thought were critical to the nation’s security, but that have been very unpopular with the majority of the American people.

And so, my credibility to address these problems was non-existent. For those reasons, I accept the blame and hope that my support and encouragement for their efforts will help the men and women coming to the White House tomorrow find a way through this mess.

Furthermore, any success that comes from tomorrow’s meeting should be credited to Barack Obama and John McCain and to the leaders of the House and Senate. But if it fails, blame me….