TELLING IT LIKE IT IS
Let’s talk about the hot topic in Washington, D.C., and I don’t mean the stimulus package. Let’s talk about what has happened to King Barack and his Heavenly Court. Now mind you, my problem is not so much with Barack himself, who I still regard as a remarkably talented politician with a very bright future. I simply fault those who treat him like the Second Coming. They’re threatening to turn Barack’s Presidency into something nearly as comical as Cheney’s.
Consider just for a moment the reaction among certain segments of the liberal blogosphere after Tom Daschle resigned as nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Barack publicly apologized for the snafu. One after another, bloggers fell all over Barack as if he had just turned lemons into lemonade; it’s not as miraculous as turning water into wine, but not a lot of Presidents can pull it off.
This is from Bonnie Erbe’s Thomas Jefferson Street blog:
“Wow! How long has it been since we've seen a president admit he was wrong? Dubya never came close. If his neck were on a boulder and a muscled executioner wielded a cutlass above his head, Dubya would never admit he was wrong. Everyone else was wrong, but not he. Richard Nixon saw enemies in every corner, but he could not admit wrong. Even Bill Clinton never apologized to the country for lying about his encounters with Monica Lewinsky.”
Erbe went on to toast Barack’s “strong sense of self” and his “refreshing bit of candor.” In fact, over the past couple of days, “refreshing” was probably the word liberal bloggers most often used in describing Barack’s handling of the Daschle controversy. What follows are the televised comments of Arianna Huffington, the uber-blogger who never hesitated to rip Bush a new one every time he or his minions made a mistake. Talk about spin.
“It was very refreshing. It was a teachable moment. And actually, Barack Obama has offered us multiple teachable moments. You know, not holding a grudge with his appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, bringing the first granny into the White House, teaching how he can bring grandparents into the bringing up of our children, staying unflappable while being criticized as a socialist, the terrorist during the campaign and now this one—admitting a mistake. How refreshing. As the mother of two teenage daughters, I really welcome that moment.”
Listening to my fellow progressives, if I didn’t know better, I’d think that the whole Daschle episode was proof positive about how lucky we all are that The Chosen One is among us, continuing to stretch the possibilities of statecraft to its angelic limits. But I do know better, because unlike so many of these other bloggers, I am neither new to progressivism, nor to the city of Washington. And here, in progressive Washington, the whole Daschle situation has produced a collective sigh of “Oh shit. This again.”
To illustrate what I’m talking about, I’d like to offer the kind of apology that Barack Obama could have given, but didn’t. It’s offered in the style of Howard “Tell it like it is” Cosell. Or, as we like to say in the world of law -- it attempts to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
So without any further adieu, I give you an imaginary address to the nation by our recently-minted President, Barack Obama.
“My fellow Americans. I come to you today appreciably wiser than I did when you elected me. Just last month, I received a royal tribute that should have humbled me beyond description. Instead, it has left me a tad drunk on my own power – drunk enough to think that the ends justify the means. For that, I am deeply sorry.
“Statesmen should be judged primarily by the extent to which they stay true to their campaign promises. That is what made Ronald Reagan such a great President – you and I may not agree with what he stood for, but at least he did what he said he’d do. As for my campaign, you’ll recall that I promised fundamental change. I promised an administration that isn’t beholden to lobbyists, and that is deeply devoted to the rule of law and the respect for all citizens, not merely the overfed big shots that have been running both Washington and Wall Street into the ground.
“Well here we are – three weeks into my Administration, and look at what’s happened. I’ve created a national joke. ‘‘Why don’t progressives worry about raising taxes? Because they don’t bother to pay their own.’ The joke wouldn’t be so funny if only one or two of my nominees had tax issues. But it has gotten to the point where everywhere you turn, you read that another nominee hasn’t paid their taxes. Or if they don’t have a tax issue, then it’s their spouse. Hard working, law abiding Americans have got to be wondering whether they’re too honest and patriotic to fit into my Administration.
“Just look at my Secretary of Treasury. He’s the guy who’s responsible for overseeing the Internal Revenue Service. And even he has a five-figured tax problem. I understand that judges are already making snide comments to Government lawyers when they try to enforce the tax laws – pointing out that their own leaders don’t pay their taxes, so why do they expect other people to pay up? This isn’t exactly the kind of change I campaigned for.
“Of course, it took a real doozy, a truly blatant case, before the public would finally stand up to me on these issues. And frankly, I’m glad you did. I deserved it.
“For those of you Rip Van Winkles out there who haven’t heard of Tom Daschle, here’s what you missed. When Mr. Daschle was campaigning for the Senate in 1986, he made a political ad that praised himself as the epitome of frugality. It was focused on how he had driven his old Pontiac to work every day for the past 15 years, even as a member of the House of Representatives. He held himself out as a model of the kind of humble, down-to-earth politician we all wish to elect, but so rarely find. But that was 1986. Now, it’s turned out that he has been a high-paid consultant to a company that has given him daily access to a limousine and chauffeur, that he had failed to pay some of this income on his taxes, and that in total, he owed more than $140,000 to the IRS. Worse yet, as far back in June of this past year, he told the Senate Finance Committee that "something made him think that the car service might be taxable" -- so this huge amount of unpaid taxes was no secret to him when he applied for a high position in my Administration.
“I want you to think about what we’re talking about. $140,000 owed to the IRS. Just how much income do you think must have generated a tax liability that large? Keep in mind, this was relatively recent income – it didn’t date back to the 80s, right? That’s when he was driving his old Pontiac. So Mr. Daschle didn’t bother to pay taxes on hundreds of thousands of dollars of income. Hundreds of thousands! And still, when my people vetted him, they allowed him to stand for nomination.
“If that’s not enough, here’s the piece de resistance – when all this was revealed to the public, and I was asked if I stood behind Mr. Daschle, I said “Absolutely!” And my press secretary, Robert Gibbs, elaborated on that sentiment: "It was a serious mistake, one that he caught and remedied. We still think he's the best person to do health care reform and shepherd a very complicated process through Congress to achieve savings and cut costs for the American people."
“That was my attitude, too. The ends justified the means. Mr. Daschle is smart and well connected, so he’s the man for the job. Absolutely! I thought about the situation, and decided that failing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes doesn't disqualify someone from overseeing our health care system. Just like I absolutely didn’t think that failing to pay tens of thousands of dollars in taxes disqualifies someone from overseeing the IRS. And these are just two of several examples of my top nominees who have shown blatant lapses of judgment, if not ethics. In each case, we’re talking about liberals who are really rich and apparently want to make damned sure they stay that way.
“What does that say about me and my lieutenants that these scandals are now the face of my Administration?
“I’ve been wondering about how I let this happen. Perhaps the problem is that I’m still relatively new to this town – after all, when you exclude the time I’ve spent on the campaign trail, I’ve really only spent a couple of years here. Maybe I just don’t know enough people well enough to separate the true public servants from the fat-cat opportunists. Or maybe I’ve just gotten so used to Illinois politics that practically anything seems acceptable to me now.
“Anyway, you might not want to believe me – and I can’t blame you if you don’t – but I sincerely have learned from my mistakes of the past few weeks. I understand that “change” isn’t just a slogan. I understand that for change to come to Washington, we must first start with ethics.
“I want this to be the cleanest Administration in recent record. I want to be known, once again, as ‘No Drama Obama.’ So today, as I stand humbled by broken campaign promises, I assure you that I have taken this lesson to heart. The next time someone in my Administration pushes the envelope with ethics, that person is out. I don’t care how smart they are, or knowledgeable, or efficient at their jobs. If they’re not ethical, they won’t work for me.
“That is a promise.”
And that, my friends, is an apology worthy of the word CHANGE.