At Tuesday's press briefing, Robert Gibbs took this tack in talking about the Christmas bomber and Obama's responsibility for breaches:
Q Does the President take any personal blame for that? Does he believe that he did not pay enough attention to these issues in his first year in office?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- I don't think that's the case, no.
Q So the fact that he had this incredibly full plate did not, as you say, distract him from spending the time needed?
MR. GIBBS: We've spent an awful lot of time talking about -- you've asked me a lot of questions, most of which I can't answer on camera, about different activities, and the President -- nothing has distracted the President from keeping us safe.
Gibbs seemed to go out of his way to stipulate that someone else is to blame for security slip-ups—absolutely not the president himself. After the colossal p.r. failure of Janet Napolitano's claim that the "system worked," a little perfunctory taking of responsibility by the President would have been a good move. The press was asking Gibbs to incriminate the president in a way a press secretary cannot, but a dash of "the buck stops here-ism" would have gone a long way.
Later in the day on Tuesday, in a closed meeting with his national security officials, Obama reportedly told those officials that he would not tolerate "finger-pointing" over a "screw-up that could have been disastrous."
In his remarks following the meeting, he mentioned responsibility twice, saying "it's my responsibility to find out why [the system failed], and to correct that failure so that we can prevent such attacks in the future," and that he appreciated that each member of the team "took responsibility for the shortfalls within their own agencies."
Both elide personal responsibility for the lapse that has already occurred, though much more artfully than Gibbs did. If Obama wants the agencies he oversees to avoid "finger-pointing" and take "responsibility for shortfalls," wouldn't it be better to take some of the pressure off by taking some of the responsibility himself and desist sending Gibbs out to point fingers away from him?
Obama was lavishly praised for his refreshingly blunt blame-taking in the case of the tax-scandal-plagued Daschle nomination, when he told TV cameras, "I screwed up."
In this matter of much more consequence, a fraction of the same frankness would be good for him. Perhaps the White House is sensing that, as the president is expected to take personal responsibility in remarks today:
President Obama will take direct responsibility for administration mistakes when he releases a new report on the Dec. 25 terror incident, but he is not planning to fire anyone for the foul-up, according to a senior administration official familiar with the president's remarks.
"He will say, 'Here are the warts, I'm responsible," said the senior administration official, who requested anonymity because aides were not authorized to discuss the remarks before they're delivered by the president.