Commentary: Daschle won't get sympathy from anyone

The Sacramento BeeFebruary 5, 2009 

Hire a nanny, pay the taxes. Get paid for a speech, pay the taxes. Get the use of a car and driver, pay the taxes.

Only those with God complexes try to get around it. As such, Washington, D.C., was roiling Tuesday with news that Tom Daschle, President Barack Obama's nominee for secretary of health and human services, was stepping aside over alleged tax cheating. Another top Obama nominee also stepped down in tax shame.

We'll leave it to the Beltway pundits to sort out the politics. Out here in the real world, it's hard to feel sympathy. It's hard to imagine how people with means can be so devoid of sound tax advice.

But this issue goes much deeper, doesn't it? It's the dollar amount. It's Daschle's $80,000 in unreported consulting income on top of thousands more for an unreported personal driver and car. It's that we're fed up with excess in the face of massive job losses.

Between excess and job losses, there is no in-between solution. If Daschle skates – or even if he paid a penalty – he undermines Obama's plea for personal responsibility.

The president drew a line, which became a fence that kept Daschle on the outside looking into a job at which he would have done very well.

Oh well. Hang 'em high. Except that a call to my tax guy muddied the clear waters of outrage.

"If he made millions and millions and didn't report $140,000 over a number of tax years, then he might be like a lot of people," said Mark Whisler, a tax specialist. "Not everyone would know that a car and a driver have to be reported on your taxes."

That seems hard to believe. Yet Whisler's comments were echoed by tax specialists across America.

"The expectation that presidential appointees must be qualified and also be a tax expert is misguided," tax expert Jim Weikart told the New York Times.

Daschle could simply have messed up. We may never know for sure. But it doesn't really matter.

We're fed up.

I know I am. I bank at Bank of America, which took over Merrill Lynch, which was run by John Thain – the guy who decorated his office with a $1,400 trash can even as Merrill racked up $15 billion in losses in the last quarter of 2008.

Now BofA is cutting its losses. It's laying people off, including a guy who helped my family for years. This guy was the reason we banked with BofA in the first place – a working guy with a family – and now he's unemployed while Thain pads his portfolio.

In such a climate, who can feel sorry for Daschle?

Maybe in good times, Daschle gets by and many of us simply shrug.

These aren't good times. It's tax season now. It's supposed to be the time we all dig in and embrace responsibility.

It's supposed to be a new day in America.

If the price is that a popular politician loses a job over back taxes, so be it. Those of us on the ground are seeing much worse every day.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service