Astute reader Tom Miller of Clearwater observes: "When a politician or some other crook says, "I take responsibility," they are released from any further criticism. When they really want absolution, they say, "I take FULL responsibility."
Mr. Miller is correct. The modern practice of "taking responsibility" often means the exact reverse. The translation is, "I will pretend to admit something, in hopes that I do not have to suffer any consequence." Indeed it usually is accompanied by a rationalization or weasel-out.
For instance, this now-quaint statement from May:
BP has said it would take responsibility for damage from the spill, but chief executive Tony Hayward on Sunday disputed claims by scientists that large undersea plumes have been set adrift by the spill.
Speaking of the oil spill, after several weeks of spewing oil, President Barack Obama began to feel the heat. So he declared at a May 27 news conference:
I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down.
And yet it is mid July, and the thing spews still. Given that he "takes responsibility" for it, I would say he ought to be fired; yet I am told this is unreasonable on my part.
Our governor, Charlie Crist, installed a crony as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, and the fellow went on a spending spree worthy of a crazy Roman emperor before getting arrested.
"I take responsibility for that," Crist finally and grudgingly said in April. Wait for the "but"...
But I think that again, once you become aware of what the facts are. I think an appropriate response is absolutely what is required. And I think it's required.
I think that means, "I take responsibility, but it wasn't my fault, so elect me to the U.S. Senate anyway."
Two members of the Tampa City Council somehow forgot to obey the state's "resign to run" law so they could run for the County Commission.
"It was an oversight," explained one of the two, John Dingfelder. "I take responsibility for it." (As long as it does not keep him from running.)
The reigning champion of responsibility-taking in Florida is Rick Scott, a Republican candidate for governor. He "takes responsibility" for the fact the giant company he founded, Columbia/HCA, paid $1.7 billion in fines to settle the largest Medicare fraud investigation in history.
"I've been very upfront with voters," Scott says. "People make mistakes, and when you're the CEO of the company, you take responsibility."
And: "As I have said repeatedly, Columbia/HCA made mistakes, and I take responsibility for what happened on my watch as CEO."
And: "When you're the CEO you take responsibility. ... But that's the difference. In business you learn from mistakes. In government, they never do."
Scott must be exhausted from all that responsibility-taking. And yet it does not disqualify him (in his own mind, at least) from being elected governor of Florida.
Defense lawyers plead for lenient sentences because their clients have "taken responsibility." Sports figures caught in some drunken fracas or another, not to mention an occasional accusation of sexual assault, "take responsibility" for their actions.
Well! I suppose it is better to take responsibility than to deny it. But the difference is not what it used to be.