Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Slight discomfort

Very briefly, I would like to say that I have a slight discomfort with the nominations of Timothy Geithner and Tom Daschle to Cabinet-level positions in the Obama administration. Geithner, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, is imminently qualified to be the Secretary of the Treasury. Daschle, a former Majority Leader of the United States Senate, is equally as qualified to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

My problems do not stem from their qualifications, but their actions. Both Geithner and Daschle have recently admitted that they did not pay their taxes, but since they have been nominated, those issues have been rectified. It may seem minor as we all have had problems with the IRS at one time or another, but this is about timing.

As all of us are dealing with this economic crisis, it comes across to a number of Americans that future Cabinet members not paying their taxes is a sign of arrogance, and the fact that they have not stepped down and are likely to be confirmed as a sign of elite privilege.

I personally will not pass a disparaging judgement towards them, but I understand the bad perception it portrays. As someone who has had to deal with short comings in public life, I know how fragile the public trust is. How hard will it be, for example, for a Treasury Secretary, who oversees the IRS, to get the agency to enforce the law, when he has been negligent in his taxes?

During the first 100 days of a new administration, establishing a tone is important. The public mandate in the last election was positive change, but Geithner and Daschle being given a slap on the wrist does not invoke that change. Instead it adds to the perception that the "haves" get by, but the "have nots" don't.

Governor Richardson saw that when he took his name out of contention for the Secretary of Commerce, even though he actually may not have done anything wrong. Just the specter of an investigation made him realize maybe this is not the best time to pursue a Cabinet position when public trust is so important to revive.

The President is standing by Geithner and Daschle, and based on their backgrounds, he can. But you could see the pain they have caused in the face of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, as he had to answer question after question about actions neither he, nor the President, had control over.

The enemy of hope is cynicism. I guess I am just concerned that the appointment of Geithner and Daschle will give cynicism a foothold it does not need to have in this administration, especially in times like these.