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More Audacity of Arrogance

Arrogance can get in the way of principles.

Sure, President Obama finally said he screwed up, but not until his nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary withdraw because of extensive media coverage of his tax problems. And we have a Treasury Secretary who also heads the Internal Revenue Service that got away with being a tax dodger. President Obama is beginning to learn that his charm, smile and personality are not enough.

What was missing was loud outrage among the millions of President Obama supporters over selecting two tax dodgers for his cabinet? They were not expressing disillusionment over the hypocrisy of a president that sold himself as someone that would bring a new kind of politics and a higher morality to government. He should not be protected by the color of his skin but judged by the content of his character and decisions.

Both the new Treasury Secretary and the former nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary should not have been selected in the first place by President Obama for such high level positions once all the details about their tax avoidance behaviors became known. And they were known from the vetting process. Everyone should understand that both men would not have paid all their taxes had they not been selected for those high positions.

Even though former Senator Tom Daschle took himself out of the confirmation process, the more important point is that President Obama supported his selection for HHS Secretary despite the facts about Daschle's tax disgrace as well as his making money from the health care industry. As a senior member of the plutocracy, Daschle clearly had incredible arrogance and only capitulated when there was heavy media attention and public protests about yet a second tax dodger being selected for a cabinet position.

What all this was really about, however, is whether President Obama has quickly lost credibility as a highly principled, unconventional politician. The day before Daschle withdrew President Obama's press secretary defended the selection of both tax dodgers, despite them owing about $200,000 in back taxes and penalties.

We are to believe that either the two tax delinquents were stupid or they intentionally tried to escape paying federal taxes, despite making very large amounts of money. Clearly, neither one is stupid. Daschle simply wanted to get away with $250,000 worth of chauffeured limousine service over three years. Interestingly, in 1986 when running as a congressman for a senate seat Daschle scorned those in Washington who rode to work in a limousine or other fancy car. But that was before he became a big time power broker. And Tim Geithner wanted to get away with avoiding taxes on some income. It is not enough for them to say they are sorry for their "mistakes." Not when millions of innocent Americans are suffering terribly because the most powerful and richest people have sent the economy into the toilet. Not when ordinary people get nailed for much smaller tax underpayments.

Those who make the most money are the ones using every legal and illegal action to avoid taxes. The Treasury Secretary was making over $400,000 annually, and the former senator once seen as a sure bet for HHS Secretary made over $5.2 million in the past two years playing the same influence-peddling game that so many other former members of Congress have succeeded at, including $220,000 from health care interests.

Should ordinary Americans suffering in these hard economic times feel sorry or empathy for these two people? I think not. The moral decay among so many of the most powerful and richest people in America that caused the economic meltdown also reveals itself among people who try to brand themselves as public servants seeking places in the Obama administration. Where is their shame?

And it is the moral dimension to President Obama's decision to make these two men members of his cabinet that says something negative about him. Is he so arrogant that he believes he can get away with selecting people that have failed in their civic responsibility to pay all their taxes? What happened to Obama's high-minded principles? Where is his shame?

Related to this kind of thinking is the fact that these two individuals as well as many more chosen for the highest levels in the Obama administration are clearly status quo establishment people. Where is the public disgust that people who have served for decades in the nonprofit sector as true change agents fighting terrible forces causing poisoning, pollution, plunder of natural resources and unsafe products? Hundreds and hundreds of true activists in environmental, conservation, government watchdog, and public interest groups have been fighting for worthy changes in our society. But they are not being chosen for high government positions. Why not? This is hard to understand when the president created his own public image in large part by emphasizing his work in the nonprofit sector as a community organizer.

With hardly any exceptions all we see in the new Obama administration are status quo establishment figures, insiders through and through, many from the Bill Clinton administration. And yet we are expected to believe that these people will abandon old style politics and deliver the changes we have been waiting for? Not me. As to the promise that there would be no lobbyists in his administration, the second in command at the Defense Department was a lobbyist for Raytheon, the chief of staff for the Treasury Secretary was a Goldman Sachs lobbyist, and the Middle East envoy, former senator George Mitchell (like Daschle) made millions peddling influence.

Hope? Yes, I hope we see a change in how President Obama runs the federal government. I hope to see more morality, honesty, and respect for the rule of law applied to absolutely everyone. And I hope to see many nonpolitical outsiders from the nonprofit sector in senior federal agency positions.

Perhaps the time will come when those citizens that gave their money to the Obama campaign will ask for their money back, because they finally realize they were deceived by a lot of slick hope-and-change-new-politics rhetoric.

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Joel S. Hirschhorn has succeeded as: a full professor, University of Wisconsin, Madison; a senior staffer, U.S. Congress (Office of Technology Assessment); head of an environmental consulting company; Director of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources, National Governors Association; now an author and consultant. Recent books are: Sprawl Kills - How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money, and Delusional Democracy - Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. He has published hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines, journals and on many web magazine sites. He has given hundreds of talks at a wide range of conferences worldwide. He focuses on American culture, politics and government, and health issues.