Saturday, January 31, 2009

Act Stupidly, And Serve In The Cabinet

Former Senator Tom Daschle, paid $2 million to help a fat cat, also got free use of a car and driver worth $128,000 over three years but didn't tell the IRS until President Obama tapped him as secretary of health and human services. He also failed to declare $83,000 in consulting income and claimed too many charitable gifts. On TV last week, Watergate reporter Bob Woodward intimated that there was another tax scandal coming for Obama. Presumably this is it. Why didn't Woodward just report it instead of teasing viewers? In any event, referring to the first one, the New York Times reports this morning:
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Daschle’s tax problems would derail his nomination. The confirmation of Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner was held up only briefly after the disclosure that he had failed to pay more than $34,000 in taxes owed to the federal government.
Friends in the administration say Daschle made "a stupid mistake" but shouldn't be penalized, since he told the Senate about it himself -- the old "turn yourself in, son, it'll go easier on you" rule. At least, that's what they always say. However the word has gotten out, tax scandals are generally expected to be devastating for Republicans, not to mention for those such as you and me who are not needed in the Cabinet.

Tax scandals have inconvenienced Democrats as well, though in other ways. When an accountant stupidly backdated the deed of President Nixon's tax-deductible gift of his pre-Presidential papers, it ended up wasting a lot of the House Judiciary Committee's valuable time during the 1974 impeachment hearings. It was after the tax story broke that President Nixon, deeply wounded by the charge of personal financial impropriety, made the famous declaration of his innocence to a group of editors in Orlando, Florida in November 1973.

But in these anxious times, we don't want hardworking politicians to have to say, "I am not a crook." We want them to be able to say, "I am in the Cabinet." My New Nixon colleague Frank Gannon sees it strictly in terms of the old partisan double standard and Democrats' knack for raising taxes without, as in these notable cases, paying them. Hasn't he heard that we've evolved beyond that kind of divisive rhetoric? We're in a era of new thinking and ideas.

As a matter of fact, the Times is definitely onto something by suggesting the "Cabinet penalty box" approach. Geithner's stupid mistake cost us $34,000, so his nomination was held up "only briefly." What was it, a week? For riding around in a free car for three years stupidly failing to realize it was taxable income, Daschle boosted the deficit at almost four times' Geithner's rate, so he should sit out for at least a month. With the deficit already running over a trillion a year, it might be the best thing that could happen for health care policy. By the same token, since Obama appears to be flirting with protectionism, he may decide to delay choosing a trade representative for another two or three months, so he should find someone for that job who's stupidly cheated us out of half a million or so.

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