It is a truly audacious sign of hope
that the public had the sense to rebel at this privileged man’s
assertion of even more privilege and that the new president decided
that he had better listen to us. Daschle tried to assert that his tax
problem was simply an honest mistake, but people working hard just to
make ends meet are no longer willing to cut someone like him a break.
It’s not just that Obama has raised the bar on ethics standards; it’s
that we the people are raising them even higher.
Surely we have enough good and smart
people willing to work to solve our nation’s problems who have also
paid their fair share of taxes. It is a good thing that Obama
jettisoned Daschle. It would have been mighty hard for most of us to
swallow the tax bite of a new health plan written by a man who admitted
that he kind of forgot to pay a tax that equals what three of us earn,
in a year.
Daschle, like Tim Geitner, our new
Treasury secretary, didn’t pay the taxes that he was supposed to pay.
The formulas were complicated, the excuses palatable and the apologies
sincere, but they couldn’t hide from working Americans a simple truth:
These guys make so much more money than we do that they just don’t have
a clue. We have broken the race barrier around the White House, but the
class barrier seems well-entrenched.
Daschle made enough money as a lobbyist
that he could forget about paying more than $100,000 in taxes. He could
grow so used to the inner confines of the Lincoln—or was it a stretch
Hummer?—that he didn’t notice it was coming from his buddy, Leo Hindery
of InterMedia Partners, the boss who paid him up to $2 million each
year for a part-time job. He thought of it as the kindness of a good
friend. The boss remembering your birthday is a kindness. Sending the
limo around every morning is like getting your card punched letting you
into the circle where rules don’t apply. (Daschle’s other $2 million
part-time job was to be a non-lobbyist lobbyist for the law firm Alston
Daschle spent enough time in a limo that
the taxes on the value of those rides alone were in six figures.
Haven’t we had enough of government by the rich, for the rich, and of
the rich? Isn’t it now abundantly clear that the tie that binds our
lawmakers to our corporate and financial elites is their perch high
atop the pecking order of a class structure we can now see more clearly
It’s not about you, Tom. It’s about the
seductive influence of power. It’s about the sad reality that for many
who leave public office a far more lucrative career knocking on the
doors of their old friends awaits.
No one denies that Tom Daschle is a good man. But how
does a good man from South Dakota talk himself into believing that he
needs to spend his life in a limousine? He’s too old for the prom. He’s
been married twice already, the second time to one of Washington’s
biggest lobbyists, who works on behalf of the airline industry. You can
hear the wheels turning in his head. “Well, everyone else is doing it.
The Metro is too slow, I hate to drive, you can’t get a cab when you
need one, and it might rain on my suit just before the big
presentation.” I’m sure you can relate.
And how does a president who proudly
pointed to his vice president’s years riding Amtrak to and from work
expect us to show the love to the limo man? This comes hard on the
heels of the automotive executives being run out of town for daring to
fly their corporate jets to Washington, D.C., to beg for a bailout.
The entitlement culture that has taken
hold in Washington is out of control. A change in party alone won’t
alter that. Daschle should be exhibit A—he left the Senate
involuntarily at a time when the law prevented him from becoming a
lobbyist until a year was up—so he and his bipartisan buddies cooked up
another name for a lobbyist, “special adviser.” In this realm, the
distinction between Democrats and Republicans is meaningless. Daschle
was brought into Alston & Bird by his old friend Republican Sen.
Public Citizen, a lobby without limos,
says that nearly one-third of retiring lawmakers end up on K Street as
lobbyists. (We’re still waiting to see if our recently retired
congressman, Jim Walsh, joins the gravy train.)
A generation ago, when elections didn’t
cost nearly as much, politicians didn’t spend so many of their waking
hours begging for cash. Until we wise up and finance our elections
publicly, we’ll continue to get the best government K Street money can
buy. If President Obama can add campaign finance reform to his
first-term agenda, the momentary embarrassment of the Daschle affair
may be seen as the prelude to one of his lasting achievements.