This is not the first two weeks President Obama envisioned.
Right now, Democrats have been going down, one after another, to
some form of ethical violation. To many (most?) Amaericans, it looks
like most politicans are somehow dishonest. Intellectually, we know
that might not be true, but viscerally, people are believing it. And
currently, the faces are all Democrats.
We’re just days after the impeachment of Illinois Governor Rod
Blagojevich and his final blitz on the major (and some minor) news
and talk shows pleading his innocence in all sorts of odd narratives.
One of his statements on the floor of the Illinois senate at his final
hearing was that, c’mon, all you politicians know that this is the way
it works and everyone does it, making deals and all.
Whatever deal was in the works to get Eric Holder to help President
Clinton pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich came back to hurt his
nomination to the office of Attorney General, so he apologized and said
he regretted it. Okay, he got approved and now he’s in. In spite of
some serious concerns by people who had no clout.
Then Tim Geithner’s nomination as head of Treasury, in charge of the
IRS, which he cheated by not paying taxes that he claimed was
“unintentional”. Even more of a flap than Holder’s nomination, more
questions and concerns, but Geithner gets approved by a senate led by
Democrats. Would never happen if a candidate with this same profile
were Republican, no matter how much Obama talks about “putting aside
petty partisan politics”.
Then there’s Tom Daschle for Health & Human Services (in spite
of his affiliations with the pharmaceutical industry, among others).
His tax evasion was just too flagrant. Overnight, more voices started
calling for Daschle to step down from his nomination to the cabinet. He
hung in there and hoped to be confirmed while more analysis got out
there about the size and scope of his transgressions. Even some liberal
During almost two years on the campaign trail, Barack
Obama vowed to slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his
administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural
Address a “new era of responsibility.” What he did not talk much about
were the asterisks.
The exceptions that went unmentioned now include a pair of cabinet
nominees who did not pay all of their taxes. Then there is the lobbyist
for a military contractor who is now slated to become the No. 2
official in the Pentagon. And there are the others brought into
government from the influence industry even if not formally registered
This is what Obama promised to clean up when he was campaigning. So far, not much change.
But the (Daschle) episode has already shown how, when
faced with the perennial clash between campaign rhetoric and Washington
reality, Mr. Obama has proved willing to compromise.
The NYT piece was stinging. And refreshingly honest.
“This is a big problem for Obama, especially because it
was such a major, major promise,” said Melanie Sloan, executive
director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “He
harped on it, time after time, and he created a sense of expectation
around the country. This is exactly why people are skeptical of
politicians, because change we can believe in is not the same thing as
business as usual.”
This morning, five major newspapers came out against Daschle’s nomination. And a member of the senate finally spoke out.
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint on Tuesday called for
President Obama to withdraw the nomination of Tom Daschle for health
and human services secretary, becoming the first senator to say that
the former majority leader’s tax problems are disqualifying…
“The average American would likely face criminal charges with tax
evasion of this size, yet he did not address the issue until he was
nominated,” he said…
“There’s so much at stake at this point in our country … I think we
have to look beyond the Senate club here and those folks we served with
and do what’s best for our country,” DeMint said.
“This morning, Tom Daschle asked me to withdraw his
nomination,” Obama said in a statement. “I accept his decision with
sadness and regret.”
And probably some relief.
Then there’s Nancy Killifer,
who Obama appointed to a position he created called ‘Chief Performance
Officer’. Who this morning pulled out because her own performance on
paying taxes would become a distraction.
In a brief letter to Obama, the 55-year-old executive
with consulting giant McKinsey & Co. wrote that she had “come to
realize in the current environment that my personal tax issue of D.C.
unemployment tax could be used to create exactly the kind of
distraction and delay” that must be avoided in responding to urgent
In the current environment? Meaning, the one in which Americans expect integrity and honesty in government?
Oh yes, and then there’s Charlie Rangel, head of the House Ways and Means Committee, who writes tax laws but underpaid his own…