A Changing Culture?

By Dan Froomkin
1:03 PM ET, 02/ 4/2009

Was the Daschle drama a symptom of a changing culture in Washington? Or a symbol of how intractable it is?

R. Jeffrey Smith, Cecilia Kang and Joe Stephens write in The Washington Post: "A classic rule of Washington's political culture -- that public service can lead to personal riches -- seemed to collide yesterday with the presidential promise that the time has come for a break with the past....

"After losing his Senate seat while serving as that body's most powerful Democrat in 2004, he swiftly signed on as a special policy adviser to a 900-member law firm and pulled in a multimillion-dollar salary. It is a well-worn path, trod by dozens of ex-lawmakers in the past decade.

"But some observing the debacle wondered if the capital's ways were changing....

"'I think it's possible this is some sort of bridge between an old Washington and the new Washington,' David Arkush of Congress Watch said of the initial backing of Daschle and the sudden reversal....

"Fred Wertheimer of the nonprofit advocacy group Democracy 21, who is a veteran of many disputes over ethics in Washington, said: 'I don't think people should mistake this and think it means there is no way to change the culture of Washington. Just the opposite. It indicates that there are new lines. In some ways, this is a warning signal to the city that the rules are changing.'"

CBS's Katie Couric asked Obama in her interview yesterday: "You campaigned to change the culture in Washington, to change the politics as usual culture here. Are you frustrated do you think it is much, much harder to do that than you ever anticipated?"

Obama replied: "Well, first of all I never thought it was easy. Change is hard....

"That passion has not changed. And we're going to make some mistakes. I'm going to screw up sometimes, there are people here who are well intentioned but disagree with me philosophically, or have just fallen into old habits that need to be broken. And its not going to happen overnight, but I'm confident that if we just stay on the course if we stay focused on what's good for the American people that ultimately we're going to be able to deliver."

Mother Jones's David Corn asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs a similar question at yesterday's press briefing.

Gibbs replied: "I think the President would say to you that he didn't believe that we were going to change the way Washington has worked the past three decades in the first two weeks of this administration. I think that's accurate to believe. I would point you to, again, a set of ethics requirements that exceed any that have come before. David, anybody that walks in and serves in this administration will -- can never walk out of it and lobby this administration.

"Is changing the way Washington works going to be more than a two-week job? Yes, it is, and thankfully we've got four years to try."

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