Just before Senator Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, the New York Times published an article "Obama's Pledge to Reform Ethics Faces an Early Test" which opened:
During almost two years on the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural Address a "new era of responsibility."
The exceptions that went unmentioned now include a pair of cabinet nominees who did not pay all of their taxes. Then there is the lobbyist for a military contractor who is now slated to become the No. 2 official in the Pentagon. And there are the others brought into government from the influence industry even if not formally registered as lobbyists.
The day the news broke that Mr. Daschle had withdrawn his nomination, the Times' "quote for the day" was:
I've got to own up to my mistake, which is that ultimately it's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules. You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes. [emphasis added]
- President Barack Hussein Obama
A number of people whom we trust have told us that Mr. Obama is a quick learner. Mr. Obama tells us that he's learned that his administration has to convince people that there aren't two sets of rules, a relaxed set of rules for the elite where breaking the law is a "mistake" and rules for the rest of us where breaking the law means jail time.
He didn't say which set of rules he had in mind; we hope he believes that the rules which mean jail time for lawbreakers ought to apply to everybody.
If so, let's consider Mrs. Leona Helmsley. She was an extremely wealthy New York City hotel owner.
Her hotels employed people who made beds, ran vacuums, and did general maintenance. She believed that since she was paying these people, she could expect them to do what she told them to do. She had some of them work on her private residence.
If your employees whose salaries are paid by your business work for you personally, you're supposed to declare the value of what they do as income and, gasp!, pay taxes on the income.
Mrs. Helmsley was arrested for tax evasion. During her trial, she declared, "paying taxes is for little people," an impression which Mr. Obama has said he intends to correct. Mrs. Helmsley was convicted by a jury of her peers, and went to jail.
This is precisely the law Sen. Daschle broke - he was given a company car and driver, which he used both for business and for private transportation. When he failed to pay taxes on the income he received from private use of a car owned and deducted by his business, Mr. Obama famously declared that Sen. Daschle had made a "mistake." The Times reported:
Mr. Daschle . . . said he had "no excuse" and wanted to "deeply apologize" for his failure to pay $128,000 in federal taxes.
When Mrs. Helmsley did exactly the same thing Sen. Daschle did, she went to jail. Sen. Daschle has withdrawn his nomination, but nobody is saying anything about jailing him as Mrs. Helmsley was jailed.
After Mr. Obama chose Mr. Timothy Geithner to be his Secretary of the Treasury, Reuters reported that Mr. Geithner had neglected to pay $43,000 in income taxes earlier this decade. Reuters later quoted Mr. Obama as saying that Mr. Geithner had made an "innocent mistake." Mr. Geithner is now the US Secretary of the Treasury.
We find it harder to believe that Mr. Geithner didn't know that he had to pay taxes on genuine, ordinary income than to believe that Sen. Daschle didn't know he had to pay taxes on income imputed to him when he used a company car for personal use. There are two choices:
Either way, Mr. Obama has appointed an unqualified man to be Secretary of the US Treasury.
We noted earlier that Mr. Obama is a quick learner. Having said that Sen. Daschle and Mr. Geithner "made mistakes," he now realizes that:
I've got to own up to my mistake, which is that ultimately it's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules. You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.. [emphasis added]
- President Barack Hussein Obama
The Wall Street Journal quoted Mr. Obama as saying, "I screwed up." and saying that it's his job to get things back on track.
The Presidency is one of the toughest jobs on the planet; it's unreasonable to expect any President not to make mistakes. The real test of a President is what he does when he realizes he's made a mistake. Will Mr. Obama fix his mistake, or will he let it slide?
If he means what he said, if there really is one set of rules which apply to everybody, Mr. Obama has to fix his mistake. He can choose between:
If he does neither, he'll reinforce his strong message that there are two sets of rules: rules for his guys, and rules for the rest of us.
Which is it, sir? How many sets of rules are there? One set or two, it's up to you.