It's Question No. 63, and it looks straightforward enough:
"Please provide any other information, including information about other members of your family, that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the president-elect."
You've already worked your way through the first 62 questions, and if it wasn't obvious before, it certainly is now: They want to know everything. Everything that could even conceivably mean trouble for a new administration loudly and publicly committed to changing the ways of Washington.
And on the off-chance they might have failed to mention some particular problem area in those first 62 questions -- beyond any brushes with the law, or tasteless e-mails, or expensive gifts from unusual friends, or curious entries in your diary -- there's Question No. 63, which is designed to say: "Or...anything...else."
And you're sitting there in your chauffeured limousine, which some corporate high-roller gave you, which you somehow haven't reported as income, and on which you haven't paid any income taxes, and you look at the first 62 questions, and you look at Question No. 63, and you say to yourself:
Not "Nope, I won't apply for this job, and I won't accept this job if it's offered to me, because there's too much I'd have to explain, or that the president's people would have to explain, and I can't put the president and his people in that position."
Not that "Nope."
"Nope, no problem." That "Nope."
And another "Nope" for the questionable charitable contributions, and another "Nope" for the millions in "consulting" fees, and another "Nope" for the hundreds of thousands in speaking fees, including payments from the very industries you'd be responsible for reforming and regulating, and --
"Nope, no problem," said Tom Daschle.
If it wasn't before, it certainly is now. The stories are all over the news, and Daschle has had to fess up, and pay up. He's said he's "deeply embarrassed" by the revelations -- which is a possibility he really ought to have considered somewhat earlier in the vetting process.
What is it with these guys? Do they think there's a special line in their copy of the questionnaire, something written in invisible ink, that says, "This doesn't apply to you"?
Do their brains automatically insert an extra provision that says, "Nobody'll ever know, so there's no harm in leaving it out"?
(Or maybe their brains simply shut down for a month or two when it's the president-elect on the other end of the phone call, and he's saying something that begins with "I'd like you to be my...")
Or do the biggest of the big shots never even have to deal with questionnaires? Are the Tom Daschles and the Tim Geithners of the world so well connected, let alone so absolutely vital to the well-being of the republic -- or so we're told -- that they get waved right past the velvet rope and into the Cabinet Room?
Or -- and this may be the worst of all possible worlds -- have all these prospective nominees, these titanic talents-in-waiting, become so thoroughly Washingtonized that it doesn't even occur to them that anyone might look askance at this sweetheart deal or that interesting bit of tax avoidance?
Not exactly the message you want to send when times are tough, and when you're almost sure to be calling for shared sacrifice to start digging us out of the hole we're in.
"Team of Scofflaws"?
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.