You Can’t Clean Dirt Without Getting Dirty

Former Sen. Tom Daschle seen with then candidate Barack Obama. Daschle withdrew his nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services yesterday amid controversy regarding late tax payments.

There is a sharp difference between campaigning for the Presidency and actually being President. Barack Obama is learning that lesson rather quickly.

After running a campaign built on change, President Obama has experienced a crash course in how truly difficult it is to change the culture of a town that has been immersed in secrecy and deceit for decades.

Evidence of the dark underbelly of Washington has been exposed lately as a number of President Obama’s nominees for various cabinet positions have come under fire from the media as well as congressional committees because of legal woes and less than pristine tax practices.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate of Obama’s was nominated by the President Elect to serve as Secretary of Commerce but later withdrew his name because of impending legal investigations into his business dealings in his home state.

Obama’s pick as Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, went through a grueling few days as members of the Senate grilled about failing to pay over $50,000 in back taxes. He has since paid those taxes was eventually confirmed.

Yesterday the President suffered the biggest PR blow since he’s been in office with the withdrawal of two nominees. Most notable of the two was Former Senator Tom Daschle who was nominated to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Sen. Daschle owed nearly $150,000 in taxes which he didn’t pay until recently. Unfortunately for the White House the news broke shortly before the daily briefing with Robert Gibbs.

The press conference was overloaded with questions about the incident with some reporters even calling the administration’s vetting process an embarrassment.

Later in the evening, political pundits like Sean Hannity of Fox News (go figure) jumped all over it. The opening headline on “Hannity” read “Ethical Shortcomings.”

After outlining the days events Hannity had this to say:

Perhaps the worst part of this sordid affair is the president’s empty promise of a higher standard of ethics. 

Statements like those are fine and dandy as political talking points among pundits and insiders, but the events of the last week should have a different meaning for American citizens. 

In the court of public opinion, Obama’s recent hurdles should be viewed as proof of difficulty rather than bumps in the road. They are an illustration of the type of city that the president, who despite all the dirt around him remains clean as a whistle, is trying to clean up.

Hannity’s characterization of President Obama’s campaign promises of ethical reform as “empty” are about as premature as deeming the Superbowl decided at halftime.

Cleaning up Washington isn’t something that can be done in a few cabinet picks. It is a culture changing process that will take time. 

Nominating a candidate who has a a blip in their record doesn’t make the president’s promise empty at all. It simply showcases how widespread the imperfection he’s dealing with really is.

But the simple fact is that not a single one of the nominees who came under fire this week, Daschle included, committed any wrongdoing as actual members of the Obama Administration. These were all previous offenses that frankly, outside of perception, have no effect on their ability to perform their jobs

The President’s promise was to clean up and change Washington, not to erase  individual’s past transgressions. He can’t create candidates. All he can do is look at the pool and select who he feels would be the best for a particular job. 

A broken promise would involve an infraction of some sort committed by a cabinet member going ignored by the administration. Yesterday’s events hardly fit that description. 

 If need be, there will be plenty of time to call President Obama’s promises empty, label his ethics standards hypocritical and even his economic plans fruitless.

But after two weeks on the job — that time has yet to come.


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