Skip to comments.A touch of Chicago
Posted on 02/08/2009 12:33:02 PM PST by Nachum
You can't say this new administration isn't changing Washington. Because politically, the nation's capital is starting to look a lot like Chicago on the Potomac, complete with the sleazy deals and subsequent embarrassment.
We're supposed to believe that any resemblance between the goings-on in the Windy City, whose civic culture is legendary for its, uh, ethical flexibility, and the current process of picking a Cabinet is purely coincidental.
Just because the new president came out of the Daley machine, and had his own ethical problems before he became the Hope of the World, doesn't mean Barack Obama can't reform Washington. A new era of Change is in the offing. And the country is about to get the most ethical administration in history. (Again.)
Tell it to Mr. Dooley, the fictional Irish barkeep in Finley Peter Dunne's timeless columns for the late and otherwise forgotten Chicago Evening Post. From his key listening post on Archer Avenue, Mr. Dooley, bless his Irish soul, had seen 'em come and seen 'em go-reformers, that is-and he didn't have much use for 'em. Or as he put it in a brogue straight out of County Roscommon:
"A man that'd expict to thrain lobsters to fly in a year is called a loonytic; but a man that thinks men can be tur-rned into angels be an iliction is called a rayformer and remains at large.''
Mr. Martin Dooley, saloonkeeper and philosopher, would not be surprised at how rapidly this angelic administration is turning into an only human one, with all the ethical compromises pertaining thereto:
First there was the stillmysterious case of Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico who chose not to become secretary of commerce in the Obama administration after all. Something about a grand jury investigation and his not embarrassing our new young president-who must be aging fast these hectic days, thanks to friends like Mr. Richardson.
"I have no trouble with my enemies, but my friends, my goddam friends, they're the ones who keep me walking the floors at night."-Warren G. Harding. Or was it Oscar Levant who said something like that? Either could have. And the words still constitute fair warning to every president of the United States, poor soul.
Now the next secretary of commerce-and, boy, does this economy need a good one-is to be a clean-as-a-hound's-tooth Republican from the granite-solid state of New Hampshire: Judd Gregg. Sounds like a step up. A big step up. This president learns fast even if the education can be painful.
In order for Senator Gregg to take the job, he wants assurances that his successor will join the Republican minority in the Senate to deny the Democrats the magic, filibuster-proof number of 60 votes in that chamber. Surely something can be worked out. Arrangements can be made, as they say in Chicago and on The Sopranos.
In this new era of change, the old ways don't. For you can take the politician out of Chicago, but not the Chicago out of the politician.
After l'affaire Richardson came another exception to the high ethical standard that Barack Obama, like every brave new reformer of a president, was bringing to Washington. It seems his choice as secretary of the Treasury-Timothy Geithner-failed to pay all of his taxes. (The bill came to $43,200 counting interest.)
It was rather embarrassing for someone who's been picked to collect taxes from the rest of us. Still worse, Mr. Geithner didn't cough up till he was chosen for the Cabinet and realized that a confirmation hearing was bearing down on him.
There's nothing like the prospect of a congressional hearing to wonderfully concentrate the mind-and add to the coffers of the U.S. Treasury. And also show appointees to high office the error of their ways. By now confirmation hearings have probably saved more office-seekers than any tent meeting. Like confession, such hearings are good for the soul. Indeed, they're becoming largely indistinguishable from confessions as one distinguished appointee after another raises his hand and swears he's sorry for not paying his taxes. It's become almost a rite of passage for members of this latest Most Ethical Administration Ever.
Given the choice between a man of Timothy Geithner's extensive if maculate experience and some innocent soul who's never had enough responsibility to blow it so publicly, or made enough money to avoid paying his taxes on such an impressive scale, a defensible case could be made for Mr. Obama's decision to stick with his fallible choice as secretary of the Treasury. Consider this historical precedent:
Probably the best chief of the Securities and Exchange Commission the country has ever known was its first-Joseph P. Kennedy, patriarch of the Kennedy clan and a man with so many flaws it would be a whitewash to describe his career as merely checkered. (Big-time bootlegging may have been the least of Mr. Kennedy's foibles.)
Asked why he would appoint so suspect a character to guard the country's securities markets against stock jobbers, inside traders, and such less than savory types, Franklin D. Roosevelt replied: "Takes one to know one."
Sure enough, Joe Kennedy proved one of FDR's most successful appointees, at least as long as he stuck with the SEC. (Promoted to ambassador to the Court of St. James, his pronouncing the doom of British democracy in November of 1940, right in the middle of the Battle of Britain, proved premature.)
Here's hoping that Tim Geithner will turn out as well at Treasury as Kennedy Sr. did at the SEC. He can't afford not to, now that the whole country has been put on notice about his delinquencies. Even the most valuable public officials may get only one second chance.
Which brings us, alas, to Tom Daschle, who was until last week Obama's choice to head the sprawling Department of Health and Human Services. It seems the man who was going to straighten out the country's physicians, hospitals, health insurance companies, and indeed the whole jumbled hodgepodge of a mess that is the American health-care "system" couldn't even keep up with his own fiscal affairs, let alone those of every patient in the country.
The former senator failed to pay taxes on hundreds of thousands of dollars of income and, politically worse, didn't mention that little problem when he was being "thoroughly vetted" for the appointment. Even though the standard form he filled out asked whether he had "any expectation that you will be the subject of any tax, financial or other audit or inquiry."
Another part of the questionnaire, specifically Question 20, reads: "Please provide the names and details of any individuals and organizations with which you or your spouse have been associated which might present a conflict of interest with your proposed federal office, or have the potential for embarrassment."
No, the man can't say he wasn't warned. Unfortunately, he failed to warn the Obama administration about his not so little problem. It seems he owed the government more than $128,000 in back taxes on unreported income. His not mentioning that detail has to rank with Tom Eagleton's forgetting to tell poor George McGovern, the head of his party's ticket in 1972, that, oh, yes, and by the way, he'd had electric shock treatment before being chosen as the Democratic candidate for vice president of the United States that year.
A busy fellow just can't be expected to remember every little thing. Tom Daschle, for example. He's been busy been collecting an impressive amount of baksheesh from a wide variety of companies with an interest in health care-and far beyond-since he left the U.S. Senate. He may not be the most dynamic speechmaker you've ever heard, but he picked up almost a quarter of a million dollars in speaking fees alone. (It never hurts to invest in a future Cabinet officer.) Now he's joined Bill Richardson as a former pick for the Obama Cabinet-and none too soon.
The list of Mr. Daschle's potential conflicts of interest was almost as long as his two arms, but even then it couldn't match the nearencyclopedic list of special interests that have bankrolled the Clintons and/or their presidential library over the years. The confirmation of Hillary Clinton while hubby stood proudly by was an historic milestone, all right: This country hasn't had a secretary of state so tied to various interests foreign and domestic since, well, never.
Does anyone think that if either of these appointees-Messrs. Geithner or Daschle-were Republicans nominated by a Republican president, they'd have stood a chance of being confirmed by a Democratic Congress, what with their record of paying taxes, or rather not paying them? Imagine the uproar over the Clintons' financial ties if she were a Republican. Instead, her nomination sailed through a Democratic Senate. Happy Days Are Here Again.
The first, disorganized days of the Obama administration haven't reached the proportions of another Most Ethical Adminstration Everthe Clinton administration's crackup in the spring of '93-but it's getting there. The estimable Charles Krauthammer, whose column regularly graces the editorial page, has been getting some ironic mileage out of describing the Obama administration as continuity we can trust. There's also such a thing as continuity we shouldn't trust.
None of this should surprise. It's a pattern as old as politics. So is a president's standing by his top appointees as long as he decently can, or maybe even longer. When it comes to picking his Cabinet, this president, too, has a way of seeing no evil. Or just trusting that his own well-burnished image will ward off any doubts about his judgment or that of his appointees. The man is a reformer, isn't he? A change agent. (Use any over-used term you like.) How could a reformer not reform? A change agent will surely change things, right?
To quote the ever quotable Mr. Dooley, who said it long ago, but who still sounds remarkably contemporary: "A rayformer thinks he was ilicted because he was a rayformer, whin th' truth iv th' matther is he was ilicted because no wan knew him. Ye can always ilict a man in this cawnthry on that platform. If I was running fir office, I'd change me name, an' have printed on me cards: 'Give him a chanst; he can't be worse.' He's ilicted because th' people don't know him . . ."
But we're getting to know this reformer, who's turning out to be not all that much of one. And the Change he's embracing is starting to look awfully familiar. As familiar as the Chicago skyline. There's still time for the new president to pull out of this dive. Here's one good sign: He just admitted he's screwed up. To know you've got a problem is the first requirement for solving it.
But how many more Richardsons, Geithner, Daschles, Clintons and all their baggage can this reform president take on and still be thought of as a reformer? No need to mention his choice of Nancy Killefer as Chief Performance Officer of the U.S. government before she was caught not paying her household help's employment taxes. Some duties, it seems, she didn't perform.
Barack Obama's great strength as a leader has been his ability to inspire hope-the genuine, lowercase, real thing. But public opinion is a fickle beast, and bright hope can turn into contagious cynicism with dismaying speed. And the grand illusion that was Barack Obama's charismatic campaign could quickly turn into a grand disillusion with his administration. That kind of disenchantment is bad enough in good times. In times like these, it could be crippling. Remember the Carter Years, aka Malaise? Please, not again.
Paul Greenberg is editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-
First president not to attend The Inaugural Medal of Honor Ball
5 exectutive orders the first week in office. Including one that allows hundreds of thousands of Palestinians with ties to Hamas to resettle in the United States.
First interview, with foreign news outlet- for Muslims
Talks about his muslim family
Picks fight with Limbaugh
Won't take question from press
Allows to FDA approve first human embryonic stem cell safety trial (3 days after Pres. Bush left)
Excludes any compromise with GOP on Stimulus bill Massive pork in stimulus bill
5% of stimulus bill to actually go to infrastructure
Offers to negotiate directly with Iran
Puts 5 millionairs on his cabinet
Makes a tax cheat the Sec. of the Treasury
Argues with the Pope on abortion
Signed the SCHIP bill, that gives health care to illegals
Won't allow a video of his retaking of the oath of office
Ordered the closure of Gitmo
Halts all pending Bush regulations
Appoints extremist Samantha Powers to head foreign policy team
Secret nuke talks with Iran/Syria
Appoints tax cheat for commerce secretary
Illegal alien aunt, granted a "stay" of deportation Daschle the tax cheat/lobbiest proposed as secretary for health care
Nancy Killefer for candidacy to be the first chief performance officer for federal government fails to pay household help taxes ...withdrawn
12 lobbyists (or more) appointed to high gov't positions within the first 14 days of his administration (up to 17 by another source)
Administration demands defense cuts of 10% during wartime
Obama envoy George Mitchell tells Palistinians " they believe can extract from Israel concessions reaching "much further" than during talks held under the previous administration
The European Union warns the US yesterday against plunging the world into depression by adopting Obama's Buy American policy, intensifying fears of a trade war Obama immediately backs down from policy
After stating her priority would be "mum-in-chief", Michelle Obama goes on listening tour and then makes political speeches with her husband not yet one month in office...
George Mitchell resigns from a Saudi Lobbying firm, two weeks into his appointment as "Special Middle East Envoy"
Obama administration says it will cancel 77 drilling leases near Utah parks
Ogden, President Obama's pick for deputy attorney general, used to represent Playboy
Steven Chu, Obama's secretary of energy (not a climatologist) states: California's farms and vineyards could vanish by the end of the century, and its major cities could be in jeopardy, if Americans do not act to slow the advance of global warming
Obama names most fined Washington State bureaucrat Ron Simms to the #2 position in HUD
Hilda Solis, Obama's pick for labor secretary's husband is found to be a tax cheat just before the confirmation vote
Directed military prosecutors to revoked charges pending against mastermind of USS Cole bombing: Al Nashiri
Adding insult to injury: Speaks to families of USS Cole dead, after decision to free Al Nashiri- not before
Third week in office
Obama changes the setup of the National Security Councel by executive order
Washington, D.C.! The new home of the corrupt, Chicago politcal machine. Yeah! That’s “change.”
I urge you to post this recap week by week.
We are being steamrollered by the swiftness and audacity of all of this hope and change. Myself, I am still fuming about two multi-million dollar DOG PARKS in that stimulus bill, along with honeybee insurance!
Thanks for the list. I guess we have to laugh so we won't cry.
Great list! Please continue to update it and post it.