03 February 2009

Demagoguery we can believe in

In November 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama transformatively promised, "I won't take a dime of [lobbyists'] money. 

"And when I'm president, they won't find a job in my White House."

It was a remarkable statement.

Riding the wave of Hopenchange during the spring and into the summer, the Changemaker routinely condemned Sen. John McCain for keeping a handful of ex-lobbyists on his advisory team. 

Then Obama won the election. 

And something fascinating started to happen.

On January 21, the day after his inauguration, President Obama signed an executive order banning any former lobbyists who might join his administration from dealing with matters related to their lobbying work. Likewise, the executive order mandated that these individuals could not join the agency they lobbied for a period of two years.


Because that sounds a lot different.

Back to the lobbying issue in a moment.

While simultaneously promising to do away with "politics as usual," Obama nominated three high-level appointees -- Tom Daschle, Tim Geithner and Nancy Killefer -- who had previously owned a staggering amount of backtaxes. 

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Obama's first and much-lauded choice for commerce secretary, voluntarily withdrew his name as a result of a grand jury investigation into a state contract awarded to one of his most high-profile donors.

The most damning indictment of Barack Obama's "new era," however, was the ludicrous appointment of former Senate Majority Leader Daschle to be the administration's chair of the Department of Health and Human Services as well as the White House's health czar.

Not only is Daschle an unabashed proponent of Euro-style socialized medicine (yes, liberal friends -- I'm sure that Daschle, the career obstructionist, intended to consult with a variety of advisors from across the political spectrum in a bipartisan fashion, and facilitate open, honest debate about a wide variety of fixes to the country's health-care issues), but as noted on this blog several times before, he had worked at the same high-profile Washington lobbying firm that employs former Sen. and Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole -- Alston Bird -- since he was upended by John Thune in 2004.

(And yes, he was a lobbyist. Team Hope will have to do better than proffer his official title of "senior policy advisor." Alston Bird is a lobbying firm. What exactly do you think Daschle was doing at a law firm without a law degree?) 

Daschle has received better than $5 million over the last two years in consulting fees from a wide variety of clients, many of them inside the health-care realm. A number of health groups paid Daschle fees in excess of $15,000 per appearance to speak at their events.

It was a staggering conflict of interest.

William J. Lynn, Obama's choice to be the #2 man at the Department of Defense, recently worked as a lobbyist for Raytheon, a high-profile defense contractor. And William Corr, who was coincidentally tapped to be Daschle's second-in-command at HHS, lobbied for most of last year as an anti-tobacco advocate. 

Corr has promised that he will not deal with tobacco matters in the new administration.

Well, sir, that's refreshing.

What likewise slays me is White House press secretary Robert Gibbs' response: "Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions."


Because that's not what it sounded like when the Changemaker was pining for my vote.

Interestingly, Gibbs said that Daschle's decision today to withdraw his name from consideration was "his alone," and that he had received no prodding from the White House.

That's disappointing.

Because in this new era of hope, change and post-partisanship, he should have.

With his lofty rhetoric, Barack Obama set the bar for himself extraordinarily high. And all indications are that, as president, he won't come anywhere close to clearing it.

I suppose it's true that rules were made to be broken.

Even in Barack Obama's White House.

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