Daschle bites the dust as new ethics era dawns -- or does it?

By MARTIN SIEFF  |  Feb. 4, 2009 at 10:25 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Tom Daschle has bit the dust for the second time in four years: The former Senate majority leader has been forced to withdraw his nomination as secretary of health and human services, just four years after his shock defeat for re-election as Democratic senator from South Dakota.

Daschle withdrew his nomination right after Nancy Killefer, nominated to be the U.S. government's first chief of performance review, had to pull out as well. She stumbled over unpaid unemployment compensation for household help. Previously, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, one of the most effective, well liked and respected senior government officials in recent Democratic Party administrations, was forced to withdraw his nomination as secretary of commerce because of unnamed conflicts of interest.

President Barack Obama's own insistence on higher ethical standards in the pork barrel trough of Washington insider lobbying and politics therefore has become a boomerang, striking down increasing numbers of his own favored choices to run the United States and lead the nation out of its worst economic crisis in 75 years.

Daschle's withdrawal strikes a blow to the image of efficiency and ethical rigor that the Obama administration has embraced. However, it should not have been surprising.

Daschle had great support in the Senate, and many thought he could push through this problem. But he owed a lot more than recently confirmed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner -- around $140,000, compared with $34,000. And he had earned $5.3 million over the past two years lobbying -- a perfect example of the "revolving door" between the federal government and the new "Fifth Estate" of concentrated lobbying power along Washington's K Street corridor that Obama says he wants to close. Being the second Cabinet nominee with tax issues can't have helped either. Who wants to see a "Cabinet of All the Talents" become a "Cabinet of All the Tax Evaders"?

Daschle's spectacular fall serves notice that Obama's election victory was indeed a rare, transformational moment in U.S. political history that comes only once in a generation, if then. The change that is now beginning to take place is far broader, deeper and more profound than any simple "Democrats over Republicans," "liberals over conservatives" or government regulation over free market minimum government that both its champions and its foes imagine it to be. Obama now finds himself increasingly embarrassed, limited and forced into different personnel choices by the very values he has sincerely proclaimed.

After nearly three decades of worshiping at the shrine of big business and unabashedly revering the unlimited accumulation of wealth, the American people and their political institutions are now swinging in revulsion against those very values following the annihilation of millions of retirement nest eggs and pension fund cushions after the vast Wall Street meltdown last September.

It is therefore fitting symbolism and far more than a coincidence -- what psychologist Carl Jung called "synchronicity" -- that the Obama administration had scheduled Wednesday to issue a new rule limiting CEO pay to $500,000 per year for banks receiving federal bailout money.

Contrary to what most Washington Beltway Democrats and liberal pundits imagine, the new sense of standards and values, the Zeitgeist -- "spirit of the age" -- sweeping the United States has not mindlessly embraced the $814 billion spending package that the Dems rushed through the new 111th Congress. Opinion polls indicate that around 75 percent of Americans are strongly opposed to it as a meaningless expression of unrestrained liberal progressive wish lists and more of the usual pork.

But at least a little of the message of the new public mood is penetrating the recesses of Capitol Hill and the White House. Daschle was right to withdraw. And the lessons of his brief rise and rapid fall are two-edged: It can be argued that ethics in government have finally started to improve -- after all, he withdrew from consideration. But on the other hand, it is still no change in Washington, for the Senate confirmed Geithner as treasury secretary despite his own bad example in not paying his taxes. And Daschle, was, after all, nominated in the first place.

"Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose" -- the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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