Yesterday, in the face of a chorus of news organizations calling on him to step down, Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for HHS Secretary. According to NBC's Andrea Mitchell, upon reading Tuesday morning's New York Times editorial about his confirmation, he concluded he would be a distraction to the cause of health care reform were he to continue his fight.
The problem with his decision - and with the accusatory editorials - is that, for all the saber-rattling to the contrary, his actions actually were excusable. The only thing more implausible than believing that a multi-millionaire with national ambitions would willfully try to defraud the IRS of $140,000 is believing that a man like that actually does his own taxes. Of course, he signs his name to them and is, as such, legally responsible for their content. But morally reprehensible? It was an error on his taxes, most likely committed by his CPA.
By withdrawing his nomination, Daschle is legitimizing the notion that cabinet secretaries should be picked or disqualified based on criterion other than their competence and capacity, their management skills and leadership. Tom Daschle was to be charged with running a massive government bureaucracy. He was to spearhead an effort to bring real, lasting health care reform to a country desperately seeking it. He has unique relationships with the Senators he once led, an unmatched knowledge of legislative strategy and procedure, and was an eye-witness to what went wrong when reform was attempted in 1994. He is exceptionally qualified.
The cause of health care reform has suffered because of an inside-the-beltway distraction. If confirmed, when the time came for health care reform, is it really conceivable that Daschle's rocky entrance into the Obama cabinet would have impacted his ability to get the job done? What form could such a distraction possibly take, months, perhaps years after a relatively small confirmation blip?
There is no doubt that Daschle was about to face a substantial storm, a brutal and embarrassing crucible that few would like to endure. But he would have endured. Had he been willing to weather the storm, he would have prevailed. And when President Obama was ready to make health care reform a reality in this country, the man he most trusted to do the job could have been there, standing by his side.