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Opinion Watch

By Dan Froomkin
1:09 PM ET, 02/ 4/2009

The New York Times editorial board, which yesterday successfully called for Tom Daschle to step down as health-czar nominee, writes: "At last, the new administration is waking up to the need for top officials to live up to the high ethical standards set by the president. It should give Americans new hope that President Obama will live up to his campaign vows to reform government....

"The primary weapon for a president who really intends to clean up Washington is credibility — and that requires integrity. Mr. Obama showed that he has both of those things in abundance with his refreshingly frank admission that he 'screwed up' and his assurance that he had learned from his mistake."

The USA Today editorial board writes: "[T]he past few days prove that changing Washington is tougher than the slogan. Obama might lose some people with rare talents by sticking to his strictures. By failing to do so, however, he could lose something far more valuable — his credibility.

George Packer blogs for the New Yorker: "Whenever this kind of mini-scandal erupts, there are several ways for a President to react. Clinton showed that he was ready to cut anyone loose who caused him political trouble, and this opportunism weakened him more than the troubled appointee could have. Bush responded with stubborn loyalty, which became the same thing as indifference to competence and integrity, poisoning his Presidency. There’s a third way, projecting true strength, and that’s to live up to your principles, which is what Obama just did."

James Poniewozik blogs for Time: "The Bush administration, from the top down, was adamant in its refusal to acknowledge mistakes, operating on the theory that certainty = confidence = strength...

"And to be fair, this modus operandi extended as well to the Clinton administration and beyond; it's been Washington's general habit for some time. The passive voice is your friend. We do not make mistakes; 'mistakes were made.'...

"[T]he President took a buck-stops-here approach in his press interviews — with CNN, Fox News, Charlie Gibson, Katie Couric and Brian Williams — that we haven't seen from a White House in a while."

Michael Goodwin writes in his New York Daily News opinion column: "The White House insisted Tuesday it didn't force two tax-challenged nominees to withdraw. My question is, why not?

"Why didn't President Obama tell Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer to take a hike? Why did he let them jump when he should have pushed them?"

Steven Pearlstein writes in his Washington Post opinion column about "how fundamentally the political and economic environment has been transformed with the bursting of the bubble economy and how that has jeopardized basic assumptions and expectations and the way we do what we do.

"Tom Daschle's problem wasn't that he didn't pay his taxes. It was that he -- along with those who vetted his nomination as health and human services secretary and many of his colleagues in the Senate -- found it perfectly ordinary and acceptable that he would be able to cash in on his time in the Senate by earning more than $5 million over two years as a law-firm rainmaker, equity fundraiser, corporate director and luncheon speaker, all the while being driven around town in a chauffeured town car....

"For the American public, Daschle became the latest symbol of everything that is wrong with Washington -- the influence-peddling and corner-cutting and sacrifice of the public good to private interest. Now that this system has let them down, and left them poorer and anxious about the future, people are angry about it and no longer willing to accept the corruption of the public process and the whole notion of public service.

"The irony, of course, is that Barack Obama understood all this and tapped into Americans' frustration as the central message of his 'change' campaign. But even he, with only four years in Washington, failed to see the depth of the problem or anticipate the ferocity of the backlash."

Michael Kinsley blogs for washingtonpost.com that Daschle's mistake was reading the New York Times editorial that called for him to step down. He writes: "Daschle (indeed everybody) should have read the Washington Post instead. The Post ran an editorial saying that Daschle’s sins were disturbing but not disqualifying and, 'if Mr. Obama still wants' him, 'he’s entitled to have him.'"

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "If this is Obama's honeymoon, one shudders to think what a lovers' quarrel would look like.

"Workers haven't even finished dismantling the inaugural reviewing stand on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House, yet already the new president has been beset by unruly congressional Democrats, uncooperative Republicans and, worst of all, a series of self-inflicted ethical wounds."

Maureen Dowd writes in her New York Times opinion column: "On 9/11, President Bush learned of disaster while reading 'The Pet Goat' to grade-school kids. On Tuesday, President Obama escaped from disaster by reading 'The Moon Over Star' to grade-school kids.

"'We were just tired of being in the White House,' the two-week-old president, with Michelle at his side, explained to students at a public charter school near the White House.

"Even as he told the children his favorite superheroes were Batman and Spider-Man, his own dream of being the superhero who swoops in to swiftly save America was going SPLAT!"

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