James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Why Obama should dump Daschle and draft Dean

Posted by James McPherson on January 31, 2009

Tom Daschle’s tax issues are causing problems with his nomination to be Barack Obama’s health czar and secretary of Health and Human Services. Yet while I am constantly amazed that prominent politicians don’t have enough sense to pay (or hire competent  accountants  to pay) taxes on the kinds of “human services” that most of us can only dream about–drivers, maids, nannies, gardeners–frankly I’m more troubled by Daschle’s connections with the industry he would be seeking to reform.

So far, Daschle has mostly said the right things about the problems with health care (unlike Obama, who lately has gone silent on the issue). But as Kenneth P. Vogel reported yesterday for Politico, Daschle has made almost a quarter of a million dollars in just the past two years by giving speeches. “many of them to outfits that stand to gain or lose millions of dollars from the work he would do once confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services.”

In addition to the speeches, there’s the whole lobbyist issue that Obama promised he’d avoid, and which he is finding to be virtually unavoidable in the search for qualified people. Daschle went to work for a lobbyist (though he managed to avoid the title himself) after leaving the Senate, and as the Washington Post reported back in November, “He serves on the boards of Prime BioSolutions and the Mayo Clinic, among others, and his law firm lobbies for a number of industry clients, including CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, Abbott Laboratories and HealthSouth.” In addition, Daschle’s former beauty queen wife still is a lobbyist–who has worked for clients in the health care industry.

I’ve been a fan of Tom Daschle much of the time, and thought he did a good job of balancing his somewhat progressive leanings with the interests of his conservative state. I also still believe (one of my few departures into conspiracy theories) that the anthrax that was mailed to his office in 2001 came from a source interested in scaring Daschle into supporting the hastily-passed USA-PATRIOT Act.  The Bush administration tried to link the anthrax attacks to al Qaeda for the same reason, and, regardless of the reasons, Daschle unfortunately did support the faulty fear-inspired bill.

I also thought (and believe even more strongly today) that the Republican campaign to replace him with John Thune (a male version of Sarah Palin) in 2004 was politically smart (from a power-seeking position) for the party and its corporate benefactors in the short run, and bad for Congress and the country in the long run–pretty much like a lot of other GOP moves in recent years, particularly any involving Bill Frist, who traveled to South Dakota to campaign against Daschle.

Obama hasn’t made many mistakes since starting his run for the presidency, but Daschle was not the best choice for HHS secretary. The best option, as The Nation suggests in the issue that hit my mailbox yesterday, may have been the forgotten man who may be the one most responsible(yes, even more than Oprah) for Obama’s win–Dr. Howard Dean.

As governor of Vermont, Dean oversaw balanced budgets, income tax cutsand expansion of a universal health care system for children and pregnant women. He also happens to be married to another doctor, Judith Steinberg. Perhaps they even pay all their taxes.

Unfortunately Dean apparently made an enemy of Obama buddy Rahm Emanuel–who ironically is now chief of staff for a president who would not have been elected had Obama followed Emanuel’s favored Clintonesque key-state party-building strategy instead of Dean’s 50-state strategy.

Admittedly Dean may not as easy to like as Obama or Daschle (though he is at least as likable as Emanuel). But this administration isn’t supposed to be about who we’d like to have a beer with. It’s supposed to be about competence. The selection of Daschle somewhat calls that competence into question.

Sunday update: Today Glenn Greenwald offers an even more disturbing picture of Daschle.

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10 Responses to “Why Obama should dump Daschle and draft Dean”

  1. ib42 said

    So, if he hadn’t been nominated, this little problem would not have become one? Same with the other guy. What’s with these fellows suddenly making amends after being caught publicly? Something rotten here.

  2. Gabrielle said

    “…one of my few departures into conspiracy theories…”

    I think everyone should get at least one free pass to propound the theory of their choice 🙂

  3. brian said

    South Dakota could always smell a rat with Daschle but the media and Washington insiders just think he is perfect. He is not. We all are not perfect. But he forgot his state and played to the bigshots all the time while pretending he was just one of us. Obama drop him.

  4. blue proctor said

    Rush is a fat smelly toad. Things coming out of his filthy mouth can be used for fertilizer. Why is he running the republican party? They are all scared of him.

  5. Mike Ingram said

    Jim, I agree with you on this one. BHO has to stop finding Dems who don’t pay taxes (but want to raise them on others) to serve in his admin. While Dean annoys me in many ways, I suspect he has the chops to run HHS. He has a record of getting things done and could be a good choice. Send Tom, in his lobby limo, back to SD where he can keep avoiding taxes

  6. joe said

    I think that President Obama must drop Daschle if he is to have credibility going forward. The “stupid mistake” is really a pattern of behavior over several years not an isolated incident.

  7. […] course a better choice, would be Howard Dean, as I wrote a few days ago. Tagged with: Howard Dean, Barack Obama, Tom Daschle, Timothy Geithner, Obama […]

  8. […] PBS network, joins The Nation and a number of bloggers in recommending Dean, as I did back on Jan. 31 and Feb. […]

  9. […] most responsible for Obama reaching the White House, hasn’t been tabbed for a cabinet post. Good question, especially with that Health and Human Services position still […]

  10. […] no surprise, of course: It would have been more surprising at this point if he had chosen the best person for the […]

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