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Opinion Watch

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!"

By Dan Froomkin  |  February 4, 2009; 1:09 PM ET
Categories:  Opinion Watch  
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Next: Stimulus Watch

Comments

Dan,

If at all possible, please go back to the old format. The new one is distracting and dismaying. It is the equivalent of a bad stutter.

Posted by: lowercaselarry | February 4, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

lowercaselarry,
I, too, dislike the new format as I can't sit and digest it all at the end of the day. Perhaps the format is better for online ad sales?

Posted by: boscobobb | February 4, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse

As to the content of the story, a couple comments from the other side of the country:

1) Competent people often have skeletons in their closets. The question is, when do we uncover these skeletons? Daschle knew he was on a short list since Obama won the primaries. He should have cleaned up this mess back then. He should have disclosed it before his name was presented. I suspect Bill Richardson was more preemptive in his disclosure.

The second is, how pertinent or large is the skeleton to the task at hand?

Perhaps the third is, how stupid is the skeleton? We all have our on a scale of 1-10, so I won't add my own.

2) I don't know if Washington insiders will get the message - from the mishmash of pundit comments, it's pretty clear few insiders grasp the problem, not to mention, the solution.

3) The revolving door has to end. I have had dealings with former* high level military officers and former DoD civilians whose value is that they can help obtain gov't contracts. There is no doubt that their opinions and influence is valuable to the tier 1 gov't contractors. Pudknockers like our company merely get to sit in meetings and revise our proposals, not write the checks, that compensate these folks. They know what they're doing skirts the rules, but the upside is so big - 7-8 figure compensation - and the likelihood of being caught the last 8 years has been nearly zero.

(*note that per their oaths, general officers are forever in service to their nation and never considered "former" merely retired. Civilians don't have same claims that I'm aware.)

4) Final comment is that the US tax laws are a problem, and IRS has not had money to audit anyone who might be able to hire an attorney or CPA to dispute the audit. In short, they go after wage earners.

The proof was in Money Magazine. For many years Money Magazine created a hypothetical family and invited tax preparers to draft their tax returns. The results were then printed. I recall a mid '90s example where about 35 returns for the same taxpayer ranged from paying additional tax of $25,000 to a refund of $25,000 (something to that effect). If an engineer gave you that range you'd never want to fly on that airplane.

Posted by: boscobobb | February 4, 2009 6:47 PM | Report abuse

What has happened to the comment page on may of Washington post sites? When you want to comment, you're directed to a page that says This page doesn't exist".

Posted by: thebink | February 6, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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