Exit Tom Daschle. His parting words today: "If 30 years of exposure to the challenges inherent in our system has taught me anything, it has taught me that this work will require a leader who can operate with the full faith of Congress and the American people, and without distraction. Right now, I am not that leader, and will not be a distraction."
Given the fact that only one U.S. senator (Republican Jim DeMint) was officially opposed to Daschle's nomination as Health and Human Services secretary, the sudden departure is something of a surprise. Yet given the fact that Nancy Killefer, President Obama's choice for the new job of chief perfomance officer, withdrew her name earlier today for having failed to pay a $946 tax tab...well, how could the Obama administration have justified defending Daschle and his six-figure tax deliquency?
After we're done puzzling over Daschle, and asking how someone with "30 years of exposure" to the political system could still be so dumb, and after we're finished laughing at his old campaign ad (which proudly shows him favoring his battered Pontiac over a limousine), what happens next will matter most. Obama will need to find somebody else who can effectively lead on health care reform, somebody who commands respect on Capitol Hill.
We're at a crucial juncture on that issue; the growing unaffordability of health care, and the financial pressures of employers and doctors, have swelled the ranks of Americans who want fundamental change. In a CBS News-New York Times poll released on the eve of the inauguration, 59 percent of Americans said that the government should provide national health insurance; only 32 percent said it should be left to the private sector. In a Quinnipiac poll last November, 60 percent (including 56 percent of swing-voting independents) said it was government's responsibility to ensure that all Americans have adequate health care.
Tom Daschle's sorry episode will soon fade from memory; the urgent challenges of reforming health care will remain. Presumably, Daschle is not the sole individual capable of leading.