Monday, February 09, 2009

Obama's meta mea culpa, cont.

Taking questions at a town-hall meeting in Indiana today, Obama reiterated his oddly elusive confession of error in connection with the Daschle appointment:

The woman asked how Americans could trust him if “those you have appointed to your cabinet are not trustworthy,” referring to his nomination of several officials who did not pay all of their taxes until the prospect of working in his administration. ...

“I think these were honest mistakes,” Mr. Obama responded. “If you’re not going to appoint anybody who’s not made a mistake in their life, then you’re not going to have anybody take a job.” But he agreed that he erred by not seeing that it would look like a double standard. “I made a mistake because I don’t want to send the signal that there are two sets of rules,” he said.

As it did when Obama delivered his initial, riveting "I screwed up," the mea culpa seems peculiarly meta, admitting to a failure to recognize how his defense of Daschle would be perceived rather than to an error in judging Daschle himself. Obama didn't want to look like he was setting a double standard by defending Daschle after Daschle admitted to a failure to report use of a car and driver as income. But was he setting one? If Obama were the only person who knew of Daschle's tax error, would he have been wrong to stick with him?

Assuming not, was Obama wrong to bow to the perception of a double standard? Would it have been impossible to credibly elaborate the defense of Daschle above - these were honest mistakes...If you’re not going to appoint anybody who’s not made a mistake in their life, then you’re not going to have anybody take a job? Is it fair for Obama to confess that the whole gestalt of three nominees' tax reporting failures plus Daschle's lucrative quasi-lobbying interregnum trumped his personal conviction that Daschle was the best person for the job? And does the confession suggest that Obama should have pushed Daschle before he jumped?

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