Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The End of Tom Daschle's Nomination, the Beginning of the Health Care Debate

I think Tom Daschle did the honorable thing by withdrawing today from his nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Whether he did the RIGHT thing will be dependant upon whether, as he hopes, his withdrawal will end the distraction over his tax situation and allow us to move on to the important work of improving our health care system as an urgent priority. My fear, is that it will instead be the distraction that replaces real debate about how to make this change.

The need to fix our health care system is much bigger than any one person. Even Daschle. Even Obama. In the coming weeks and months keep your eyes on the opponents of reform: of they make their case based on an argument about health quality and economics, then fair enough - let's have that debate. But if they bring up Tom Daschle's taxes in lieu of an actual health care debate, we all need to cry foul.

UPDATE: I have just read this, and now am very sad.

while we can speculate about White House pressure, about the themes of transparency and double standards, about purity and hypocrisy, what may have trumped the chance that he could win was this: for two weeks, Daschle has spent most of his time in Boston, Massachusetts, and not preparing for the confirmation hearing; he has spent it with one of his four brothers who is desperately ill. Daschle is all South Dakota reserve, even in private. He is very sensitive to public opinion, and his public image has taken a major beating. He was portrayed as a tax delinquent, a guy who lived by a different set of standards. Before he decided to drop out, aides said that Daschle had not erected a steel barrier around him; he was sensitive to the public condemnation, and he was hurt by it.

As well as all the other things that our leaders are, they are also human beings. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this decision, clearly it will have been a very emotional one for Tom, all the more so since so many of his friends and former colleauges were prepared loyally to stand by him. Obama has a really good passage in The Audacity of Hope about the trauma of political life - the way your worst failures all happen in public in the glaring limelight. I'm feeling for Tom tonight, whatever the rights and wrongs may be.

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