When the House passed the "cheeseburger bill" to bar people from suing fast food joints for making them obese, Republican backers of the legislation scolded Americans, saying the fault lies not in their fries, but in themselves.
"Look in the mirror, because you're the one to blame," said F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, home of brats and beer bellies.
So it comes as something of a disappointment that the leader of the Republican Party, the man who epitomizes the conservative ideal, is playing the victim. President Bush has made the theme of his re-election campaign a whiny "not my fault."
His ads, pilloried for the crass use of the images of a flag-draped body carried from ground zero and an Arab-looking everyman with the message, "We can fight against terrorists," actually have a more fundamental problem. They try to push off blame for anything that's gone wrong during Mr. Bush's tenure on bigger forces, supposedly beyond his control.
One ad cites "an economy in recession. A stock market in decline. A dot-com boom gone bust. Then a day of tragedy. A test for all Americans."
Mr. Bush's subtext is clear: If it weren't for all these awful things that happened, most of them hangovers from the Clinton era, I definitely could have fulfilled all my promises. I'm still great, but none of my programs worked because, well, stuff happens."
It's as if his inner fat boy is complaining that a classic triple cheeseburger from Wendy's (940 calories and 56 grams of fat, 25 of them saturated, and 2,140 milligrams of sodium) jumped out of its wrapper and forced its way down his unwilling throat, topped off by a pushy Frosty (540 calories and 13 grams of fat, 8 of them saturated).
Mr. Bush has been in office over three years. It's time to start accepting some responsibility.
Republicans have a bad habit of laying down rules for other people to follow while excluding themselves. Look how they beat up Bill Clinton for messing around with a young woman, while many top Republicans were doing the very same thing.
Mr. Bush's whingeing was infectious. The very House Republicans who greased the skids for the cheeseburger bill got in a huff over John Kerry's overheard comment to some supporters in Chicago that his Republican critics were "the most crooked, you know, lying group" he'd ever seen.
These tough-guy Republicans, who rule the House with an iron fist, were suddenly squealing like schoolgirls at being victimized by big, bad John Kerry. J. Dennis Hastert, the House speaker, said Mr. Kerry would have his "upcomeance coming." Tom DeLay sulked that the public was getting "a glimpse of the real John Kerry." The Hammer was talking like a nail.
Marc Racicot, Mr. Bush's campaign chairman, accused Mr. Kerry of "unbecoming" conduct and called on him to apologize.
Oh, the poor dears. The very Bush crowd that savaged John McCain in South Carolina, that bullied and antagonized the allies we need in the real war on terror, that is spending a hundred million dollars on ads that will turn Mr. Kerry into something akin to the Boston Strangler; these guys are suddenly such delicate flowers, such big bawling babies, that they can't bear to hear Mr. Kerry speak of them harshly.
Mr. Bush is not believable in the victim's role. He and Dick Cheney have audaciously imposed their will on Washington and the world.
We are not yet sure who is behind the horrendous bombings in Spain, but they have already underscored how vulnerable our trains and subways are. And they have reminded us that the administration diverted resources from the war on terror and the search for Osama to settle old scores in Iraq, building a case for war with hyped and phony claims on weapons.
In an interview with The Guardian, the weapons sleuth David Kay said it's time for Mr. Bush to take personal responsibility: "It's about confronting and coming clean with the American people. . . . He should say: `We were mistaken and I am determined to find out why.' "
In other words, Mr. Bush, look in the mirror.