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02.03.09

What Really Did Tom Daschle In

The withdrawal of the former Senate majority leader as Health and Human Services nominee is a shame for the country. But it’s his own hypocrisy that made it happen.

It's difficult to know if Tom Daschle—the former Senate majority leader who just withdrew as Obama’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary—jumped or was pushed. But one thing is clear: It was the right thing to do.

I don't know Daschle—I have only met him a couple of times. But people who do know him well have an extraordinarily high opinion of him. They also say he has very good political antennae. So I suspect Daschle made it easier for Obama by committing hara-kiri.

Watch the vintage ad that helped cause Tom Dashle's crash.

Video screenshot

And Obama looks good for saying he would stand by his man no matter what. Conveniently, now he doesn't have to.

It's possible Daschle could have survived. But it would have been at the expense of President Obama. The boss would have gotten an A for loyalty and an F for politics.

If you're a Democrat and The New York Times is calling for your head, you know it's time for an exit strategy.

There will be much speculation about what impact this will have on Obama in the long run. I say negligible, except to the extent it is an unwanted distraction during a time when the administration needs total focus on the stimulus bill. But it's just more evidence that it's a lot harder to walk the walk as president than it is to talk the talk as a candidate.

Further, now Obama is having to answer questions about double standards. What's the common standard for keeping Geithner and letting Daschle go?

Fact is, it's just an impossible job being leader of the free world today. The world is too complicated and crazy. Obama can never live up to his stratospheric expectations. He set the bar himself. But now he is realizing how hard it is to clear. He's extraordinarily gifted. As gifted, perhaps, as anyone who has ever held the office. But in today's world, gifted only gets you in the zoo. Then you have to tame the animals.

If you're a Democrat and The New York Times is calling for your head, you know it's time for an exit strategy.

First you get the guy who was going to be in charge of business allegedly involved in funny business with a company that has done business in New Mexico. Then the guy who is in charge of taxes forgetting to pay his taxes. Then the woman in charge of scrubbing the federal budget apparently not scrubbing her own taxes. And now the guy who was supposed to drive health care is done because he didn’t pay taxes for his driver.

It's a shame. Obama shouldn't be distracted right now. None of us want him to be distracted. Most Republicans take no joy in these tempests. Not now. Not this early. Not with this much at stake. We ain't wallowing in Schadenfreude. I think, despite the standard GOP talking points about him, Daschle could have been a good member of the Obama administration. Fair and smart.

But I'll tell you what probably sealed it for most folks: the commercial of Daschle when he ran for the Senate bragging about driving his own car around Washington, D.C.

Ouch.

Hypocrisy is the scarlet letter in politics.

Mark McKinnon is vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media. He is also co-chairman of Arts & Labs, a collaboration between technology and creative communities that have embraced today’s rich Internet environment to deliver innovative and creative digital products to consumers.