Richardson, Geithner, Daschle, Killefer. Only one of these Obama appointees made it through confirmation and that was only because he was viewed as indispensible in our current economic crisis. Ironically, Tim Geithner, it could be argued, contributed to our current economic crisis.
When it comes to cabinet picks, is President Obama losing his credibility or are we demanding too much from our public servants? Has Obama set standards even he cannot keep?
In the case of Bill Richardson, it just seems like poor vetting, plain and simple. Richardson’s troubles as New Mexico Governor could not have been a secret. I remember when he dropped out, my conservative associates immediately taunted me about it and my response was, “let’s hope this is the worst of it.”
Then along came Tim Geithner who as head of Treasury would be in charge of the IRS. Tim didn’t pay all his taxes and when caught, still didn’t pay all his taxes until the nomination came around. The sturm und drang began to swirl but as stated earlier, Geithner was viewed as so knowledgeable about our economy that his confirmation was essential to our survival. Interestingly, might Obama have been better off naming Larry Summers? Who would we rather have running Treasury, a tax cheat or an intellectual wrongly accused of misogyny?
Today’s fiasco could not be obscured behind the “he/she is essential to our survival” premise. Neither Tom Daschle nor Nancy Killefer are make-or-break choices for their respective roles. A day or so ago, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked by a reporter where exactly does the President draw the line on what is acceptable illegal behavior for admission to the cabinet. Just how big a tax cheat do you have to be in order to be disqualified? Of course Gibbs dismissed the question saying he would not engage in hypotheticals.
Because I admire Obama, I would like to think that both of today’s “withdrawals from consideration” were quietly prompted by him. The official story with Daschle is that a New York Times editorial sent him over the edge. But I’d still like to believe that Obama called both appointees and said “Look, I can’t claim to be running a law abiding White House when everyone I appoint has got some ‘mistake’ to be apologized for. You’ve got to go.”
Whether Daschle and Killefer jumped or were pushed, there still remains a concern about the President’s judgement, or perhaps a greater concern about what service to our country does to a person. Is it impossible to find an honest man in American politics? Does everyone have a skeleton in the closet? One of the themes echoed by pundits today is whether all this scrutiny will discourage people from seeking public service. However I must sympathize with Roger Simon of “Politico”. On today’s edition of MSNBC’s “Hardball”, Simon expressed frustration with this concern about scrutiny. He seemed incredulous that we would expect anything less than law abiding public servants. When Tim Geithner does not pay his taxes, he winds up Treasury Secretary. If I don’t pay mine, I wind up in jail. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?
One thing is clear. Whether it is the personal failings of his nominees or the partisan rancor over the stimulus package, President Obama is learning the hard way what happens when his admirable and lofty goals intersect with reality. The true measure of Obama’s leadership will be whether, in the face of these and other disappointments, he can continue to keep America’s hope alive.