Daschle: Not up to par

Ryan Day

This is something of a follow-up to my last editorial, in which I claimed that the issue of prosecuting terrorism in the United States is black and white, and that there is no room for grey in the face of the law. This week, I would like to continue exploring the black and white in the world of political realities, and I’m going to focus especially on Obama and ethics reform.
Peter Baker, writing for The New York Times, addressed the issue of Tom Daschle’s unpaid taxes and Obama’s willingness to continue to support Daschle, saying, “When faced with the perennial clash between campaign rhetoric and Washington reality, Mr. Obama has proved willing to compromise.”
Daschle proves to be an interesting case because in addition to having unpaid taxes he also worked for the lobbying arm of Alston and Baird. Now, Daschle couldn’t technically be a lobbyist, but he worked as an advisor in the firm.
I think the point of contention is clear; Alson and Baird has represented some major healthcare corporations in the United States, such as Abbot Laboratories and CVS pharmacies. Tom Daschle is slated to be the secretary of health and human services. Do the math, and perhaps you can see where the conflict of interest lies.
That’s less my point, though, and more background information. My main question (and I don’t have an answer, I’d just like to explore the topic) is, how much leeway do we give Obama on his ethical promises? How much slack can we cut our president for “Washington realities,” as Baker so aptly puts it?
Is President Obama making a choice between the cleanest administration or the best administration that he can assemble? Tom Daschle is sharp, and he certainly has the skill set needed to be an effective member of the cabinet. Still, I have a hard time believing that no one has both the ethical soundness that Obama promised us and the skills and experience needed.
This, then, bring up the question: Why Daschle, if he is ethically unsound? I would guess that there are two reasons: 1) Tom Daschle is a household name and has been a power player in Congress, and 2) Obama owes him a favor because he came out in early support of Obama’s campaign.
Is it feasible that Obama is just playing politics like everyone else? I think that it is certainly feasible, and it should definitely not be unexpected. To go back to Baker’s “Washington realities,” I think that it would be absurd to believe that one man could saunter into Washington and expect to shake up an entrenched system in the way that President Obama has.
Now I’ll come back to the issue of black and white. In my last column I told you that the issue of torture was completely void of grey. At risk of contradicting myself, I’m going to take the opposite standpoint here: This issue is completely in the grey, and I don’t have an answer for it.
Like many, I bought into President Obama’s rhetoric of “change.” I still have hope for his administration, but maybe this is the note I’d like to finish on: Barack Obama, like anyone else in Washington, is a politician. He is a player of politics, and that means that he should be watched closely and criticized when needed. It is too easy to say “Bush is gone” and lean back on President Obama’s promises of change. It is a trap; America needs your dissent.
Update: Since the writing of this article, major new sources have reported two important facts. The first is that Tom Daschle has officially backed out of the running for Secretary of Health and Human Services. He cites his issue with back taxes as the reasoning for this move. The second is that President Obama has made a statement saying that he “screwed up” with the Daschle appointment. I, for one, am glad that Daschle stepped down. He would be just another example of special interest groups holding power in Washington. President Obama’s statement is appropriate (though I’m not sure he has the lobbying issue in mind as much as he perhaps should). He did screw up with Daschle. Hopefully his next choice is more ethically sound.