Daschle’s loss is America’s lossPolitics is a game of winners and losers. But there were no winners in Tom Daschle’s decision to walk away from his nomination to be the next secretary of health and human services.
By: Bill Press, The Dickinson Press
Politics is a game of winners and losers. But there were no winners in Tom Daschle’s decision to walk away from his nomination to be the next secretary of health and human services.
President Obama lost his trusted adviser and friend. Tom Daschle lost the chance to lead the most important fight of his life. And Americans lost the best qualified, most experienced and most knowledgeable expert on universal health care to lead HHS.
But the sad fact is, it didn’t have to happen. Daschle was too quick to get cold feet and Obama was too quick to throw him to the wolves. Forced to choose between a dumb mistake and a crying national need, they made the wrong decision. It would have been far better for the country if they had both decided to stay and fight, rather than cut and run. And there’s no doubt that, had they hung in there, Daschle would have been confirmed — and his tax problems soon forgotten.
Yes, Tom Daschle made a mistake in not paying his full share of taxes. For most of us, who do pay our taxes religiously and know how unmercifully we’d be treated by the IRS if we goofed on our tax returns, it’s hard to understand how someone so smart could enjoy the services of a car and driver for three years without realizing there was some monetary value involved, and therefore some tax consequences. Or if Daschle didn’t, certainly his tax accountant should have.
It’s also true that Daschle suffered the double misfortune of being second in line. If Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner hadn’t also had tax problems and survived, Daschle could more easily have stuck it out. But, post-Geithner, Daschle’s tax woes were soon seen inside and outside the White House as one tax mess too many.
Up against that acknowledged mistake, however, was the indisputable fact that reforming health care, as an essential element of economic recovery, is the most critical challenge facing President Obama — and that Tom Daschle was the best person to lead the fight. Health care reform was the number one cause of his years in the U.S. Senate. He’s written the best book on it. And he helped shape the plan Obama campaigned on as candidate for president.
In his 2008 book, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis,” Daschle calls for offering all Americans the options now enjoyed by federal employees. Consumers would be free to choose from a long list of affordable health insurance plans, including a government-run plan similar to Medicare. It’s not the single-payer solution many liberals advocate, but it’s probably as close as we’ll ever get to it. Daschle also proposes creation of a Federal Health Board, similar to the Federal Reserve Board, which would take most health coverage decisions out of the hands of Congress. The book’s cover features an endorsement from none other than then-Sen. Barack Obama: “Sen. Daschle brings fresh thinking to this problem.”
To that expertise, add Tom Daschle’s legislative skills and experience as former majority leader of the U.S. Senate, and you realize the enormity of the loss we all experienced when he was forced to withdraw his name from consideration.
Of course, we expect our elected and appointed officials to meet the highest ethical standards. But in so doing, we must be careful of two pitfalls. The first is unequal treatment: David Vitter used the services of prostitutes and still serves as U.S. senator; Eliot Spitzer did likewise and was forced out of office. Tim Geithner didn’t pay his taxes, yet now serves in the cabinet; Tom Daschle didn’t either, yet couldn’t get in the front door.
The second pitfall is impossible expectations. It’s not just, as President Obama insists, that “nobody is perfect.” The question soon becomes: Is anybody good enough to meet the test? Clearly, we’ve set the bar too high when an honest, smart, experienced leader like Tom Daschle doesn’t qualify for public service. Isn’t this a classic case of the “perfect” being the enemy of the good?
In the end, it boiled down to a choice between a squeaky-clean person and the best person for the job. Unfortunately, the wrong choice was made. It’s more important to deliver quality, affordable health care to every American than find a man or woman who never made a mistake. And that cause of universal health care has now suffered a serious setback.
With 47 million Americans having no health insurance whatsoever, this country needed Tom Daschle to lead us to universal health care. We’ll have a much harder time getting there without him.
— Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show and author of a new book, “Train Wreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (and Not a Moment Too Soon).”