Even as Tom Daschle withdrew from consideration as secretary of Health and Human Services, friends and commentators were framing the decision as a matter of political pragmatism rather than ethical failure.
“This work will require a leader who can operate with the full faith of Congress and the American people, and without distraction. Right now, I am not that leader and will not be a distraction,” Daschle himself said in a White House release.
In Daschle’s case and that of now-confirmed Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the nonpayment of tens of thousands of dollars in federal taxes has been treated by defenders as honest misunderstanding of complicated tax laws. Average Americans aren’t buying it, nor should they.
Daschle is the man Obama picked to head the federal government’s massive social services network and to lead the drive for a sweeping health care plan. If he had intellectual credentials suited to those responsibilities, surely he had the savvy to get his taxes right.
Still, the rationalization rolls on. Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, one of the partisans who hit the cable TV circuit, lamented the public’s unrealistic expectation that officials be perfect.
Bosh. Somewhere between perfection and $140,000 of unpaid taxes there is more than enough room for acceptable indiscretion.
And even after the withdrawal was announced, analysts speculated about a thought process in which Daschle showed concern for Senate colleagues; he didn’t want to make them take an uncomfortable vote on his confirmation.
MSNBC commentator Andrea Mitchell reported that Daschle told her a New York Times editorial calling for him to step down helped tip the balance.
These explanations miss the fundamental issue, which is that too many people who reach high political station acquire a sense of entitlement that enables them to ignore the rules that apply to everyone else.
Daschle compiled a long and seemingly honorable record as a leader in Congress, but even he betrayed Obama and the Senate. But mostly he betrayed the American people.
To which his own postscript is: “I would hope that my mistake could be viewed in the context of 30 years of public service.”
Good idea. Those 30 years of public service paved the way for Daschle to leave the Senate in defeat and become a $2 million-a-year consultant in Washington, D.C. – complete with complimentary car and driver. Let’s do remember that.