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Daschle's Early Withdrawal: Healthy and Wealthy -- But Normal?

I'm pretty sure there's a school of psychology that posits there is no such thing as "normal."

That is, each of us has our unique, inborn predilections. The things that we enjoy doing or are compelled to do -- date short women, collect Hummel figurines, collect Hummel figurines of short women -- are the result of our particular brain chemistry. You and I may find it odd that someone would covet miniature macrocephalic porcelain likenesses of injured children, but for other people it's completely normal.

i thought of this in the hubbub over Sen. Thomas A. Daschle's doomed nomination as health secretary. Humans spend a lot of their time comparing themselves to other humans and I wondered how different Daschle's normal was from mine.

He was a U.S. senator, of course, something I don't have the teeth for. And when he left the Senate he became a rich man, a fate I'm not worried about befalling me.

Daschle's millionaire friend Leo Hindery Jr. sounds like an interesting guy. Hindery races cars, has a huge ranch, and supports liberal causes such as gay and lesbian rights and universal health coverage. He may be the only person in the country with honorary degrees from both Emerson College and the Rabbinical College of America.

He sounds like someone I'd like and that's even without him giving me $83,333 a month and a car and driver worth $255,000 over two years -- as he did for Daschle. And after all, shouldn't we be allowed to have rich friends? (I mean it, just as I think there's usually nothing wrong with lobbying. It's a good way for like-minded groups of people to make their opinions known.)

What I wonder is if it ever entered Daschle's mind that this stuff wasn't "normal," or wouldn't strike most Americans as such. I've never had a nanny, so I couldn't have a nanny problem, the pitfall that has ensnared so many other nominees. But plenty of people do and I sympathize with the tax complications this entails.

I love my friends, but, frankly, they give me squat. Occasionally they burn a CD for me or watch my dog. Car and driver? Not so much. (I just thought of a new slogan for Daschle/Hindery: Friends don't let friends drive.)

And that, I think, is where Daschle and these other people were wrong. You shouldn't not be friends with people just because they happen to be rich. If you're a politician, or an ex- one, you shouldn't not listen to them just because they have opinions about politics. But you must recognize that your relationship will be scrutinized and the standard that will be applied is a fairly simple one: Does this seem right?

Of course, there's a way all of this could have been avoided, and I don't mean a Communist-style redistribution of wealth. If the United States had better childcare options for its citizens, administration nominees wouldn't need to worry about paying nanny taxes. They could leave their children at the government-supported daycare center.

And if the country made serious investments in public transportation, Daschle wouldn't have needed to worry about paying taxes on his chauffeured limousine. He could have taken the bus or the subway everywhere.

And it would have seemed normal.

What do you think?

By John Kelly  |  February 4, 2009; 8:10 AM ET
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To quote the late great RR, "there you go again." Twenty years ago, this talk about day care and moving executives into buses would have been branded as "pinko" talk. But seriously, people I know who work on the Hill say that senior officials do live in an incredible bubble and to move from that to an ever higher sector of lobbyist coddling, just almost inevitably leads to these kind of unfortunate situations. Of course, Daschle already carried alot of baggage from his time as Majority Leader.

But, at least this took some heat off of poor Michael "one toke over the line" Phelps. I'm not condoning law-breaking by Michael, but jeez louise, can we clean up the baseball steroid scandal before we go after America's Aquaman?

Posted by: mfromalexva | February 4, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

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