Glad to see Daschle go

Politics, US Politics

Neil Sinhababu at Donkeylicious echoes the sentiment that the real reason Daschle should be seen as bowing out should be “the revelations that he advised insurance companies and made hundreds of thousands giving speeches to industry groups”, not that he didn’t pay taxes on the free limo.

I’d say both reasons work. I think one of the most damning bits was actually about Daschle apparently having lobbied Obama for his financial patron, the very “old politics” Leo Hindery, to get a plum job in the administration. But TNR’s Eve Fairbanks eloquently made the case for even the limo thing to really count as well.

Meanwhile, though, Neil wonders that it can’t just have been the tax thing in any case, because – hey:

Geithner had tax issues too, and wasn’t a former colleague of lots and lots of Senators, and hadn’t helped Obama out very early on. So you’re going to need another variable to explain why Daschle had to pull out.

Hm – that one seems easy – dumb luck of the draw. Geithner was the first one in.

A new administration can wrestle one controversial appointment through on the argument that, yes, there are practical problems, but the guy’s just too uniquely qualified to pass on. But try to do that two or even three times in a row – when you’ve actively campaigned on clean government and breaking with business as usual – and you’ve got the potential of a backlash on your hands. And Obama’s got more reason than most incoming Presidents to want to hold off on any budding backlash among his own voters.

The luck of the draw part is that they could get away with Geithner; there’s always going to be some embarassing hurdle with some appointee. But then the problems with Daschle right on the heels of that? And even as that story was gaining traction, news breaking on Nancy Killefer’s nanny tax problem? That’s impressions potentially spinning out of control, and needing to be clamped down on.

Tom Daschle (Image shared under CC license by Talk Radio News Service)

Tom Daschle (Image shared under CC license by Talk Radio News Service)

I don’t think it would have been the same if economic times were good, when people, themselves enjoying the boom, would have been more tolerant to rich people’s foibles. Not now. It would also not have been the same if Obama had campaigned as an experienced old hand who knew the inside workings of administration. Then stuff like this would have been taken more as par for the course. But this was getting far too off-message, at the wrong time.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how even passionate fellow Obama supporters have come out against Daschle’s appointment once the scale of his foibles broke, actually. TPM’s Matt Cooper still made the point the other day that “the blogs are not on fire,” no real opinion-makers were coming out harshly against Daschle (yeah – Glenn Greenwald), and so he’d probably still be OK. But that was besides the point, or at least suggests he didn’t read the comments sections. It’s hard to tell from over here, but just going on what appeared online it seems the reaction among regular people, Democratic voters, liberals who aren’t professional pundits, was beginning to congeal into a groundswell of disapproval of sorts. I imagine many phones must have been ringing with constituent calls.

The issue with that is that Obama has made clear that one of his main strategies to push change through, even as he opts for bipartisan civility in DC, will be to mobilise civil society. To mobilise the energy of the campaign and use ‘pressure from below’ as a tool to persuade members of Congress and decision-makers to support the changes he champions. So he needs to avoid, at least for a while still, any impression taking root that he is just business as usual after all, new boss same as the old boss etc. I think he was wise to pull the plug.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. corvus9  •  Feb 3, 2009 @10:23 pm

    I think your last paragraph just about nails the problem here. If Obama wanted to “mobilize civil society,” in Healthcare, and this looks to be just the kind of fight where that will end up being an issue, the person who would be principally responsible for making the case, mobilizing the forces, would be Daschle. If his name is Mudd with the people, if everyone thinks of his as an out-of-touch Elitist fat cat, that hurts a very important front in the reform war that they can’t afford to lose.

  2. Neil the Ethical Werewolf  •  Feb 4, 2009 @12:23 am

    On one hand there’s the ‘first one in’ thing, on the other hand there’s the possibility of Geithner lowering the bar. For my part, I don’t really know what the story is, as I said in the post. As Ezra has it in his most recent post, the impetus to drop actually came from Daschle and surprised everyone else. So who knows.

    I’ve always been a big cynic about the whole ‘new politics’ thing — I think Obama meant it, but I never thought it was going to work. He’s been more effective than I thought, but at the end of the day I think brutal business-as-usual tactics are the way to get things done in DC. If Daschle could’ve gotten us closer to universal health care by using his substantial influence, I don’t care how much evil he’s done.

  3. sozobe  •  Feb 4, 2009 @7:03 am

    The luck of the draw part is that they could get away with Geithner; there’s always going to be some embarassing hurdle with some appointee. But then the problems with Daschle right on the heels of that? And even as that story was gaining traction, news breaking on Nancy Killefer’s nanny tax problem? That’s impressions potentially spinning out of control, and needing to be clamped down on.

    I agree with this. I think the common phrasing used by Daschle and Killefer — not wanting to be a “distraction” — points to this, too.

  4. nimh  •  Feb 4, 2009 @7:04 am

    Corvus – yeah, exactly. (Sorry that your comment took a couple of hours to show up, btw – the first time someone comments it needs to be approved, after that you’re free to go.)

    Neil – yeah, I cant say I’m without scepsis about the new politics thing either; I think it’s a great idea, mobilising civil society & grassroots pressure as more of a third player, across from the WH and Congress, in the political arena like that. Have it crowd out the role of lobbyists a bit. (Though thats more of a gliding scale in itself.) But I dont know how much of it will realistically happen, or achieve.

    Especially if it’s just this concept of the Obama people, and other politicians still see the Beltway and maybe some MSM as the exclusive arena for decision-making, and voters as a group that only comes up during election campaigns.

    But then maybe, if you’re feeling bright-eyed, this episode is already an example of how that contrast will play out? A career pol like Daschle seriously didn’t even stop to think about the impressions his chauffeur-driven semi-lobbying stuff might create, apparently, or at least not until way too late. And why would he have – it’s stuff that has generally been considered irrelevant or accepted within the Beltway community he’s moved in. Now he suddenly found out that, hey, things have changed, at least for the moment, and some things dont fly anymore?

  5. sozobe  •  Feb 4, 2009 @7:06 am

    Neil, I think the question though is whether Daschle is the ONLY one who could get us closer to universal health care. I don’t think the answer is “yes,” and I think he was carrying around too many liabilities. (As in, even if he could’ve done good things for health care if he was squeaky clean — and obviously he was chosen initially because people thought he could do good things for health care — this brouhaha diminishes his chances significantly.)

  6. engineer  •  Feb 6, 2009 @8:19 am

    Funny thing about some of these taxes is that the tax code is set up so that everyone is tempted to cheat. Of course, Daschle was over the top, but nanny taxes are one place where the effort to meet the requirements are extreme, the benefits are minimal and the risk of getting caught are non-existant unless you run for office. Say you hire a high school student to watch your kids after school. If you want to stay legal, you must get an employer ID, pay unemployment taxes to your state (quarterly in NC), pay the employer share of FICA taxes to the feds, withhold employee FICA taxes, send out a W-4 and submit more forms to the government with your taxes. The IRS isn’t going to go after a babysitter for not reporting $2,000 in income so everyone just ignores it. Every Obama appointee who has ever hired a nanny, after school worker, etc is probably guilty of tax evasion.

  7. Neil the Ethical Werewolf  •  Feb 7, 2009 @4:55 am

    I don’t think Daschle was essential to the operation by any means, but it stands to reason that a former Senate Majority Leader would have a bigger bank of favors to call in than anybody else.

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