I asked a student of mine, George Chapman, who used to work for Tom Daschle, what he thought of the Daschle controversy. I relayed to him Mark’s thoughts that Daschle ought to withdraw, and here is what he said. At the end of the day, it persuades me:
It’s certainly sort of ugly. And it seems to be setting a bad precedent. But, here are some thoughts on why he should not withdraw:
1: He has a LONG history of very open tax records. He was representing SD for 26 years. His financial records have been very, very carefully scrutinized for a long time. If the GOP couldn’t dig up any real dirt on him in ’04 then there was probably nothing to dig. In that context, it is easier to believe that this was actually an honest mistake. There is no indication that he’s a tax dodger. Keep in mind that his taxes are messed up after a life time of not billing anyone, and not being able to receive gifts in the first place. That said, it doesn’t look great.
2: If not for Geithner then it isn’t really a huge deal. The biggest issue is that he’s the second one in a row that has tax issues. It looks like some kind of epidemic or something. It may even be intentional that his issues come out second, so that he takes some of the leftover heat from Geithner, and relies on strong connections to get him through. Instead of Geithner having to deal with more scrutiny if Daschle’s issues came out first.
3: He does have strong connections to both sides of the aisle. They may make it unpleasant for him, but he was no Reid. He had a better relationship with the GOP than many Dem. leaders. We’ll see, but I think he may be able to skate by a little.
4: This will all go away in a month. Sure it looks bad now, but it’s not like 6 weeks from now anyone will care. Obama has already taken the hit, in as much that 2 of his candidates have tax issues and another had to withdraw. Not to mention the pardon issue with Holder. I mean, the damage is done. So as long as it isn’t going to be an incredibly messy confirmation (and once again, I think Tom relies on old friends and colleagues to blunt the worst of it) then there is going to be no lasting damage.
5: It’s too important. This healthcare deal is going to be very, very tricky to get done. There aren’t a lot of people who can really make it work. Tom may be one of those people. He understands the issues. He understands how the legislative game is played as well as anyone. And he has lots of contact and relationships that he can mine to help make it work. If he was the nominee for the Ag. secretary he really might have to step aside. You don’t want to risk any capital there, and there are plenty of people who could step in to that job and be competent. (Actually, Vilsack is definitely one of those people.) But I think that this job is too important to blow it up to avoid a week of bad press.
I still believe in Tom. He’s one of the very few politicians I might be willing to give the benefit of the doubt. That said, I’m a little disappointed. Still, I think that he’s too important, and that his potential to make a difference is too great to throw him away on this garbage.
Ezra Klein comes to a similar conclusion, although he is angry about Daschle taking honoraria from the health insurers and then saying that single-payer isn’t doable. At the end of the day, Daschle still seems to be the guy to get health care done, and in light of the other context that George provides, that’s good enough for me.