early and often

The Tax-Mess Fallout: Where Obama Stands Now

It wasn’t too long ago that President Obama’s transition was being praised as the smoothest thing since Country Crock, and nearly as good for you. His appointments were appropriate, competent, confidence-inspiring. But then the three-headed tax-delinquency monster of Geithner-Killefer-Daschle reared its ugly head. Timothy “Too Important to Fail” Geithner squeaked through, but Nancy Killefer threw in her towel without a fight, and Tom Daschle took his circular red glasses and went home when his problems started becoming too much of a distraction. It’s become a bit more of a bumpy ride, to be sure — so much so that Obama dramatically admitted he made his first mistake, mere weeks into his new presidency. But have Daschle and company tarnished Obama’s image, tempering hopes for a cleaner, more ethical Washington? Or have they, actually, in a way, confirmed that Obama is serious about keeping his promises?

• The New York Times editorial board applauds Obama for “liv[ing] up to his campaign vows to reform government.” His primary weapons are credibility and integrity, and he “showed that he has both of those things in abundance with his refreshingly frank admission that he ‘screwed up’ and his assurance that he had learned from his mistake.” [NYT]

• The Washington Post editorial board doesn’t expect this tax episode to stand out in hindsight, nor will “the success or failure of the Obama administration … hinge on” Daschle, Killefer, and Geithner. [WP]

• The Wall Street Journal editorial board thinks it was inevitable that Obama’s campaign promises would be contradicted by “the messier reality of his nominees.” His promise “to vanquish the lobbyists before banishing the special interests … was always an implausible bill of goods.” [WSJ]

• Maureen Dowd says Daschle’s resignation shook “the president out of his arrogant attitude that his charmed circle doesn’t have to abide by the lofty standards he lectured the rest of us about for two years.” [NYT]

• Charles Babington believes Obama “proved that even a clearly gifted politician cannot escape the gravitational pull of Washington forces that have humbled many of his predecessors.” Perhaps “Obama may be more ordinary than some admirers would like to admit.” [AP via Yahoo]

• David Corn points out that changing Washington “can be quite difficult if you rely on the same old Washington players.” The question is now whether Obama will “shy away from Daschle-like players.” People with tax issues surely won’t make the cut, but cashing in as a lobbyist “may not prevent anyone from receiving a job in the Obama administration. Changing that particular way of Washington may be too much change for the Obama White House.” [Mojo/Mother Jones]

• Ezra Klein notes that it was Obama’s “insistence that he would battle” the lobbyist culture that “made it harder to ignore scandal, as the Bush administration had done.” His tougher vetting and greater transparency “made for a more troubled transition, but will probably also result in a cleaner administration. For all the embarrassments, this, in a concrete sense, is what change looks like.” [American Prospect]

• The Economist expects Obama to “claim that the departures of Messrs Daschle and Richardson and Ms Killefer prove that he really is holding his government to a higher standard,” but “[a]s the shine comes off his halo the real work of governing will grow harder.” [Economist]

• Steve Benen doesn’t think “Obama deserves praise for the Daschle breakdown,” but “it’s refreshing to see a president own up to a mistake, candidly and unequivocally, telling the nation that if we’re looking for someone to blame for an error, the buck stops with him.” [Political Animal/Washington Monthly]

• John Dickerson points out the tax problems of Daschle and Geithner were revealed by the press, which makes the administration look “as if it’s trying to hide something and creates the distractions that predictably follow.” Obama can’t just be transparent about the good things, he’s “supposed to tell us about the good and the bad equally so that we can make our evaluations about people and policy based on all available information.” [Slate]

• Victor Davis Hanson claims we’re “teetering on an Obama implosion … brought on by messianic delusions of grandeur, hubris, and a strange naivete that soaring rhetoric and a multiracial profile can add requisite cover to good old-fashioned Chicago politicking.” [Corner/National Review]

• Toby Harnden writes that although “President Obama still sounds a lot like candidate Obama … the sheen is already coming off, as realities [sic] takes its toll.” If Obama fails to deliver on his promises, “the corrosive cynicism about politics that he so frequently lamented on the campaign trail will only deepen.” [Telegraph UK]

• Chris Cillizza calls the resignations of Daschle and Killefer “the first significant test for a president who has enjoyed near-historic approval ratings to date.” Obama’s “brand” is based on our trust that he’ll “surround himself with smart people and … arrive at the right conclusions based on his conversations with those people.” In the long term, “it’s not so difficult to see how this could be seen as a crack in the Obama image.” [Fix/WP]

The Tax-Mess Fallout: Where Obama Stands Now