Tom Daschle, whipping boy.

By Russ Kelley of Portland, Oregon. Russ is a first year student at Willamette University College of Law. Before law school, Russ spent several years as a press aide to the Democratic leaders of the U.S. House and Senate, including Senator Tom Daschle. Most recently he served as spokesman for then-Speaker and U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Merkley. He speaks only for himself.

Let's get one thing straight: Tom Daschle is not a tax cheat. Willie Nelson is a tax cheat. Pete Rose is a tax cheat. Al Capone was a tax cheat. Tom Daschle is not.

What he is, is a whipping boy. It isn't surprising, and it is a role he's used to. For nearly a decade, Bob Dole, then Trent Lott and finally Bill Frist, along with Rush Limbaugh, Grover Norquist and Bill Kristol did their best to make Tom Daschle public enemy number one. Their refrains are worn out by now: Tax and Spender! Obstructionist!

Now, add tax cheat to that list. Also, add to the critics a cadre of progressives who likewise have been a thorn in Daschle's side since he took over as leader of the Senate Democrats in 1995. To both sides, Daschle could do no right.

Tom Daschle rose to prominence when he took the most thankless job in politics: leader of a party resoundingly exiled by the American public. Daschle, like Dick Gephardt, and more recently John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, was expected to lead his party back to the promised land. And unlike any of his recent counterparts, he actually achieved a majority, albeit briefly, during his tenure as leader.

But in doing so, he withstood withering criticism from both sides. When George Bush took office and sent a raft of anti-progressive judicial appointments to the Hill for confirmation, Daschle held up the worst of the worst nominees. Republicans lost their minds at Daschle's audacity; how dare he use the rules of the Senate to prevent an up or down vote on rightfully appointed judges! Some loud Democrats lost their minds every time a judge who only registered a 4 on the 5-point Scalia Similarity Scale made it through.

When George Bush wanted to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, Tom Daschle brought his caucus together to oppose the measure, even when many of them wanted to go the other way. The drill-baby-drill Republicans called him a terrorist-sympathizer who wanted our nation to be dependent on foreign oil. The success-is-never-enough Democrats berated him for securing only a temporary moratorium, rather than a permanent ban, on ANWR drilling.

Thanks to Tom Daschle, airport security is run by the TSA and not by Blackwater. Thanks to Daschle, corporations still have to pay the alternative minimum tax. As majority leader, Daschle passed the McCain-Feingold campaign reform act — bringing scorn on himself from Republicans who say money is speech, and from Democrats who believe anything short of full public financing is worthless.

The difference this time around is that now, this isn't about Daschle at all. And the barrage of attacks that ultimately led to his decision to withdraw as a nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services again came from both sides. Republicans, eager to knock the new, popular president down a few rungs seized on the delicious confirmation of everything they believe to be true about “limousine liberals.” Obama used his one mulligan getting Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner confirmed. Now, he has to play them as they lie.

On the other side, some loud Democrats who have been disappointed by the fact that Obama's cabinet selections actually mirror his own thoughtful, post-partisan demeanor were all too eager to hasten the demise of one of those not-progressive-enough choices. In the circular firing squad that is the progressive movement, anyone who consorts with an avowed enemy becomes an enemy himself. In this case, Daschle was a policy advisor for some major health insurers (it apparently never occurred to the critics that he might actually be advising them on good health care policy). For them, this was a message to the President that they can jump off the bandwagon just as quickly as they jumped on.

For his part, Daschle, as he always has in the face of even mean-spirited, unrelenting criticism, showed class and gracefully stepped aside.

Truthfully, he didn't have to. He would have been confirmed. It would have been an ugly two or three weeks, and it might have even come down to a straight party line vote. But in the end, he would have been appropriately contrite, President Obama's loyalty to him would not have wavered, Republicans would have scored serious political hits on both of them, and Secretary Daschle would have gotten right to work on universal health care.

But his desire to see this president succeed without being a distraction or hindrance to the hard work ahead led him to put the future of this country before his own personal ambition. The last time he did that, it cost him his seat in the Senate. Now, it has cost him a cabinet post at a crucial moment in this nation's history. America's favorite whipping boy has taken another one for the prince.

Ironically, the real winners in this mess are the very health insurers Daschle has been advising since his ouster in 2004. He represented their worst nightmare: a competent facilitator who knows the issues, knows the industry, knows how to work the Hill, and is bound and determined to reform the health care system in this country. With Daschle at the helm, reform (and dare I say universal coverage) seemed like a viable option. Now, it could very easily end up on the trash heap. And no one would be happier than the big health insurers.

Is what he did wrong? Of course. Every American has the responsibility to pay their taxes in full, and on time. Was it intentional? Did he think he was sneaking a fast one by the egg heads at the IRS? Doubtful.

I worked for Tom Daschle for three years. He is gracious, smart, and honest. He cares too much about his country to be a tax cheat. But he also believes in his progressive principles enough to remain their whipping boy.

  • Renfro (unverified)

    Apparently Obama disagrees with you...

    Russ, if you feel so sorry for Tom Daschle, why don't you stop sniveling and create a "Support Tom Daschle Fund". You could get fellow Progressives and BO readers to donate.

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    Uh Russ, you never got around to showing us how he is not a tax cheat. You laid out all the reasons we should be even more disappointed that someone who has done so much good would screw up so badly. He is probably as knowledgeable about taxes as anyone who is not a tax accountant. He instead took the position of those on wall street that try to cut the corner too tightly on their taxes. I'm not saying others don't do it, but he should know better and we should expect more from our Democratic leaders than we do the scumbags ripping us off with tax havens in the Caribbean.

  • backbeat, mother (unverified)

    I don't give a damn about the "good" that Daschle has done over the years. The fact is that he played second snare in the illegal, immoral invasion of an innocent country that had done us no harm. It is unforgiveable the way he stood there in lockstep with the other fake Democrat,Gephart, and their horrible, murderous, warmongering bush/republican cronies in the rush to invasion. Thanks to Daschle, we can be assured that the sibling of one of the Iraqi people whose murder he facilitate, will hurt my own sons or their offspring one day.

    Daschle also is in bed with the big insurance companies who are at the root of the health problem in our country.

    He sucks.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    The Daschle Debacle. It was bad enough when Billy Tauzin was writing legislation for Big Pharma. We didn't need Tom Daschle to rig a national health plan for the insurance-medical industry complex.

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    Haha. That didn't take long. Well, like Russ said...

    In the circular firing squad that is the progressive movement, anyone who consorts with an avowed enemy becomes an enemy himself. In this case, Daschle was a policy advisor for some major health insurers (it apparently never occurred to the critics that he might actually be advising them on good health care policy).
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    it's never encouraging to see these kinds of errors from those who step up to lead our nation. and i'm not comfortable with his connections to the medical industry, although also believe he would have worked hard to promote Pres Obama's goals for health care reform.

    what i never liked about Daschle, as leader of the Senate Dems, is the same thing i don't like about Harry Reid. timidity never accomplishes anything. it's time for Dems in leadership positions to be bold and unwavering. if the Rs want to be part of movement forward, they are more than welcome; Obama has made that clear. but to let them run roughshod over those who won the election and are supposed to be enacting the policies the nation favors... good golly. Daschle could not hold on to the Senate with a Democratic president, and that's pretty sad.

    he's surely a good guy and i'm sure Obama will find another way for him to help. but i'll say this: if this opens the door for Howard Dean to be Scty of HHS, then i'll send Daschle a thank you card for screwing up his taxes.

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    Posted by: t.a. barnhart | Feb 5, 2009 5:35:16 PM


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    Here's where I'm having trouble squaring up on Daschle...

    I'll give you that he's probably a great guy: gracious, smart, honest and probably the best choice for HHS, given where we are with health care and the political dynamics. What I can't understand is why he didn't come clean to the Obama folks on the tax issues from the outset.

  • Richard (unverified)

    Where are all the "Vetting Experts" who were sure Palin wasn't vetted?

    I guess they are too busy to critique the Obama team's vetting skills?

  • Steve (unverified)

    What is the big surprise, he's a tax cheat to the tune of $150K.

    The bigger issue is he (med eqpt and health insurance) and his wife (airplanes) have been lobbyists for a while. Pres Obama said no lobbyists in his cabinet and they didn't pick this up?

    I don't even want to go into Wyden calling him his BFF he was hoping would help him with his own health care plan.

  • backbeat (unverified)

    A good guy? We knew they were lying us into an illegal invasion of an innocent country. My god, Daschle stood there with those lying, murderous assholes when the Democrats still had the majority in the Senate. Many of us (10,000 Oregonians, I was a key volunteer) signed the petition, "let the inspections work," in the fall of 2002, We delivered to them to Smith's office but it was only after I got the media there that Smith's staff even agreed to receive two of our reps. Up until that point, they were not going to accept the petitions. I told them, fine, I'll deliver them to your receptionist if you can't bother to hear from more than 10,000 Oregonians who were simply asking you to do the very uncontroversial thing: LET THE INSPECTIONS WORK! Would Daschle have any part of that extremely conservative position? Hell no, he takes up his snare drum and beat the crap out of it along with Bush, the Republicans and the entire corporate media. They've spent a trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives on this lie and call themselves Conservatives? HA! I guess it would have been horrible to ask Tom to go against the wishes of his defense dept lobbyist wife. He gets out of office and becomes wealthy, getting in bed with the health industry creeps who don't want universal care.

    Circular firing squad? Who's side are you on? The American people or the Village People?

    No, I won't shed a tear for Tom Daschle.

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    Circular firing squad? Russ, Kari, a question for you: Most of the negative stuff I've seen on Daschle from the left actually came after his demise. Maybe you can correct me, but from the time his name was first put forward I haven't perceived any sort of campaign by progressives to oppose his nomination, or even that much grumbling - certainly nothing near what we saw for the economic team nominees. In fact, the general reaction as I saw it was more that people took Obama’s appointment of such a DC “heavyweight” as a positive indication of his determination to pursue health care reform aggressively.

    Instead, it looked to me like Daschle went down very quickly, in the wake of the major stories and editorials in the New York Times and Washington Post - and that the story line had much less to do with policy differences with or purity tests from progressives and much more to do with mounting public outrage over a chain of stories underscoring just how much Wall Street and DC insiders have been getting away with, and how that perception threatened Obama’s desire to project a shift from “business as usual” in his administration.

    The MoJo piece Bill Bodden linked to appeared after the Times editorial, and Mark Nichols’ piece in The Nation after Daschle withdrew; in fact, its title seems to me to reflect a much more accurate description of left reaction: Don’t Mourn for Daschle. So unless you have any real evidence that the left was behind Daschle’s demise, I’d suggest you hold your fire.

  • JohnH (unverified)

    Not a tax cheat? Puleeese! How can you accept expensive services and not know you have to claim them as income? Ignorance is no defense, particularly when you helped create the tax code.

    So why isn't the IRS throwing of few of these guys in jail? If enough prominent politicians and their corporate patrons were sent to the slammer, it might convince their corrupt bretheren to at least cover their tails better.

    Anyway, I'll take Glenn Greenwald's take on this much more seriously than Russ Kelley, who never even bothered to address the key tax issue after trumpeting the claim that 'Tom Daschle is not a tax cheat." His only rejoinder was to say that it was 'doubtful.'

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    <i<Haha. That didn't take long. Well, like Russ said...

    In the circular firing squad that is the progressive movement, anyone who consorts with an avowed enemy becomes an enemy himself. In this case, Daschle was a policy advisor for some major health insurers (it apparently never occurred to the critics that he might actually be advising them on good health care policy).</i>

    In other words, "No matter how flawed a person might be if he is one of our crooks we still support him." But members of the other tribes, Republicans for instance, should have rejected their wretches, for instance: Tom DeLay, Phil Gramm, Dubya, Cheney, Karen Minnis, and all that gang.

    And what kind of "progressives" supported the illegal war on Iraq or those who voted for it? This is no circular firing squad. This is rejection of people with a reprehensible record.

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    hmmm... not sure where to take this.

    Daschle is not a tax cheat. He screwed up. Claiming for services like a town car ain't that simple, folks. Just like Geithner's problems when working for an international agency.

    That being said, Daschle withdrew when he realized his nomination was becoming a distraction.

    He'll fess up, pay the taxes, and it will go away.

  • Tom Vail (unverified)


    You said "Let's get one thing straight: Tom Daschle is not a tax cheat."

    You then write eloquently about all the reasons that you think Tom Daschle is a good guy.

    What you have failed to do is to help me understand why Tom Daschle is not a tax cheat and why he should be judged by a different standard than would you be judged had you done the same thing.

    Might I suggest that Mr. Daschle screwed up and President Obama's staff screwed up. Together they did a wonderful job of feeding the average American's belief that Washington has it's own set of rules favoring politicians.

    This has done huge harm to Mr. Obama's image, his message, and his ability to carry out his plans. It is due to very sloppy staff work or, and this would be worse, a very arrogant attitude in Mr. Obama's inner circle. I suspect both and think the majority of Americans agree with me (see recent Rasmussen poll, here poll

    The damage is not beyond repair unless so many of Mr. Obama's supporters continue to defend this behavior. How is this different than the Republicans that continued to allow Congress and Mr. Bush to make mistake after mistake thus alienating the majority of the voting public?

    A tax cheat is a tax cheat. Any person of principle would not hire someone who is ethically challenged or 'above the law.'

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    I'm actually much more irritated about the Nancy Killefer situation. I had never heard of her until she pulled out on the same day, so I have no idea if she's any good...

    But for the love of god, she had a $298 unpaid tax problem that was paid up back in 2005.

    As David Sarasohn noted: "Obama's pick to monitor the entire federal government, is gone -- over a paid-up household help tax debt equal to about two pairs of Nikes."

    If that's the new standard, we're in real trouble.

  • Rose (unverified)

    Daschle was a lobbyist for big pharma, and another one suffering from "tax oversight" syndrome. Please! You want us to believe he was just doing good works in the pharmaceutical realms, while he made $5 million bucks?

    Come on! Daschle became an ethics nightmare. He needed to get the boot. He will go right back to big pharma & continue making millions.

    No tears for his plight.

  • Jim (unverified)

    As to a circular fire squad, perhaps if Daschle had showed more spine so many Iraqis would not be dead, victims of the US fire squad.

    And I am sure he took all that money from the medical industry because his way of doing health better was single payer universal coverage. No doubt.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Tom Daschle may have accomplished some fine things in the past. He also may accomplish some fine things in the futre. He did, however cheat on his taxes to the tune of $150 large. He got caught and the Change we can believe in crowd wanted to shuffle it right by us.

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    Daschle could not hold on to the Senate with a Democratic president, and that's pretty sad.

    I'm quite certain that George W. Bush (2001-2009) was a Republican.

  • niceoldguy (unverified)

    I don't think Russ Kelley earned the vitriol in some of these response. Where is the Obama spirit here? To say Daschle was wrong on the war is one thing, but let's remember that a lot of people from Hillary (and Bill) on down felt war was justified.

    I agree that it is unlikely Daschle deliberately cheated on his taxes. People who say the IRS should put him in jail don't know what they are talking about. Almost nobody goes to jail for tax screwups unless they flagrantly violate the law. (Daschle's error was a lot smaller than the $16 million Willie Nelson owed.)

    Still, I don't think the taxes are the problem. Maybe Daschle really believed he could not be bought for the millions he was paid, but it was just too much for the rest of us to believe. I was an early and enthusiastic Obama supporter, but I was ready to give up on him. In fact, I still think he is spinning the Daschle case by talking only about the taxes and not about the money Daschle was taking. It all smelled bad enough to dampen -- but not kill -- my Obama enthusiasm.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    After reading all of the above, and having a belief that Obama plays chess while others play checkers, I can't help but wonder whether the emphasis on the tax issue helped avoid the problem of Daschle's association with the big insurers and all the money he took from them, all the while declining to identify himself as a lobbyist. To me, that is the greater misrepresentation. $150K is the sum of his shortfalls over several years. It really is NOT that big a deal, but since we have been given it as THE reason, we are kept from feeling the full force of the relationship he had with the insurers. To me, that is why I would question his motives and assert a conflict of interests.

    It will be no surprise if Daschle returns to the fray in some other capacity. His voice will not be lacking in Obama's ear. Daschle has been close to Obama a long time. He may be off the stage, but he will continue to work behind the scenes. As was stated above, he needs to earn his $5 million.

  • Jiang (unverified)

    Who gives a shit what he is? What he isn't is the hope and change Obama was elected to provide. Ergo, good riddance. What part of that don't you get?

  • Aaron (unverified)

    Does anyone out there have a cell phone paid for by his/her employer? If so, do you claim it on your taxes? If not, you're a tax cheat, because it is a taxable fringe benefit. The same can be said of a company-leased vehicle...or a free car service. (And, while it doesn't excuse Daschle's mistake, the provider of the car should have given him a 1099.)

    As for the uber-liberals who still revile Daschle for somehow not preventing the Iraq war, that's a LOT of misplaced anger. It's looking at the trees (Daschle) instead of the forest (Bush, Cheney, acquiescent Republicans in Congress, GOP/corporate-controlled media).

    Before you revile him further for advising and speaking to health industry companies, perhaps you should find out what he was advising and talking to them about.

  • LT (unverified)

    I'd like to redirect the debate a little closer to home.

    I am a HUGE fan of Tom Daschle, if for no other reason than the work he did on veterans issues. I've been a fan over the years going back to the 1980s. He and another young Congressman named Wyden held a hearing in Portland to allow local veterans to speak out on how they had been treated by the government when they tried to get the benefits they were entitled to.

    What concerns me is car allowances for people a lot closer to home. The day all this broke in the news I was walking around the state capitol talking to legislative staffers and a few legislators. My message was that if Tom Daschle could lose the HHS job because of tax problems over a provided car, certainly the Oregon legislature could investigate car allowances given to school administrators before they start talking about cutting days off the school year. It is in statute that districts are allowed to make decisions on administrative pay, and the legislature should investigate whether that system is working.

    I have discovered that it is a lot easier to learn how teachers are paid and evaluated than to learn the same about those administrators at the deputy or assistant supt. level. Very few school districts put this on their websites. It is only when a news story comes out in a local paper that the supposedly public salary information actually reaches the general public.

    For example:

    On the agenda

    Also on Tuesday, the board is scheduled to:

    Approve contracts for top district managers:

    Glenn Gelbrich, deputy superintendent, who earns $132,913 and has a $3,000 car allowance.

    Mary Cadez, assistant superintendent for human resources, who earns $121,716 plus a $3,000 car allowance.

    Rich Goward, chief financial officer, who earns $126,585 plus a $3,000 car allowance. ..............

    Next time someone talks about "running government like a business", ask them why these administrators don't just report mileage for reimbursement like outside sales people.

    Could it be that in a school district where the distance between the school farthest north and farthest south is less than 20 miles and the school farthest to the east and farthest to the west is less than 10 miles that these administrators don't really do that much driving for work?

    Could this be one of those "whatever the market will bear" executive compensation stories which fits into the Wall Street mentality being debated on the national level?

    True change means debating things out in the open rather than behind closed doors.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    niceoldguy, Gregor, backbeat mother, Bill B. and Rose got it right.

    Tax cheating is the least of Daschle's sins. Now, if he had had sex in a way that DP elites disapprove, that would have been reason to throw him under the bus.

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