During the presidential campaign Barack Obama defended America's unwieldy and rapacious tax system, informing Joe the Plumber that the purpose of the IRS is to "spread the wealth around." Joe Biden chipped in that paying higher taxes is "patriotic."
Tom Daschle has now been thrown under the party's fleet of limousines (though whether his old car and driver participated in running him over isn't clear to me). Nonetheless, the richly ironic first image left by Obama's first days is that of an elite cabal of bumbling tax evaders, awarding themselves an upper-class tax cut through cluelessness. Daschle's class carfare has undone him.
A president ostensibly committed to a redistributionist system of complex and onerous taxes has managed to saddle himself with a Treasury secretary who is now principally known for avoiding them. Unwittingly and trivially, true, but still it is an unexpungeable PR stain for Obama's chief tax collector.
Of all the people to withdraw, one would have thought Geithner might have raised his hand. Instead, Nancy Killefer had to drop out haplessly, withdrawing her nomination as performance czar for not paying the District of Columbia some specious unemployment household-help tax (a foot-fault probably on the order of running behind in paying D.C.'s tyrannical parking tickets).
Looking back at the intense discussions about taxes during the campaign, it is notable that unpaid taxes has turned out to be the easiest place to grab on the ethically untucked shirt of the Obama administration. Who is next? Where will it end? What worthy public servant hasn't failed from time to time to pay $130,000 in taxes?
Obama's gaudy promises of the let's-change-"the way Washington works" variety puts one in mind of Bill Clinton's amusingly brazen whopper that he endeavored to preside over the "most ethical administration ever," a claim Clinton made fresh from the most unethical campaign ever. Perhaps Obama's is shaping up to be the second most ethical administration ever.
Indeed, as Daschle headed back to K Street by foot, Obama's White House bragged about its staggeringly high ethical bar, implying that it is higher, if conceivable, than the Clinton administration's and surely Bush's. One would think Obama, who in the end is just a standard-issue liberal pol, no worse than anyone but not appreciably better either, would downplay expectations not just on the economy but on these matters too. Who is he kidding?
"Ethical" in any case is a weasel word that denotes not morality but the careful, consultant-assisted observation of technical rules, tax, political, and otherwise -- exactly what his would-be administration hasn't been doing. A while back Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid (which was Obama's proudest legislative accomplishment) passed a reform bill with that as the dominant definition of ethics.
To be ethical meant one hired a competent accountant, a savvy consultant, etc., and one filled out forms properly, observed corrupt lobbying rules precisely, and paid taxes and fees promptly and completely. How disappointing, then, to see Daschle, an early architect of this New Jerusalem, commit such an avoidable oversight: an accountant, an accountant, his cabinet post for an accountant.
By its own silly definitions, the Obama administration appears unethical and unpatriotic (in the Biden sense), a collection of trivial rule-breakers and minor tax cheats. Still, one would think that a brave and idealistic liberal president might shrug off these matters and stand by the Daschles, lest the nation be deprived of their abundant talents.
In his mind he needed Geithner, but Daschle apparently was expendable -- too much of an embarrassment after Obama allowed himself a week of pot shots at jet-setting fat cats. Also, he needs to resume his campaign of class warfare, and if its first victims are would-be members of his own cabinet, so be it.
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