A taxing task for Obama

President Obama set a high bar for himself with promises of integrity and transparency in his administration. That didn’t stop him from bumping up against his own goals, though; in addition to sidestepping his own administrative guidelines on hiring former lobbyists, we are now up to three major misfires on the subject of unpaid taxes.

First, Timothy Geithner. Next, Tom Daschle. More recently, Nancy Killefer.

Treasury nominee Geithner has so far survived a minor bruising over his ironic tax issues. Daschle appears to be honestly apologetic over his own but that isn’t stopping the New York Times from calling for him to withdraw… even as Businessweek more-or-less defends him (update: Daschle pulled out soon after I wrote this). Killefer had the decency to bail soon after her skeletons fell out of the closet. That just makes the president’s earlier statement announcing her selection all the more interesting:

“We can no longer afford to sustain the old ways when we know there are new and more efficient ways of getting the job done,” the president said in announcing [Killefer’s] nomination.

Mr. President, would any of those “old ways” refer to a cabinet post nominations process? One that includes some sort of decent vetting effort? If so, the “new and efficient ways” don’t look any better so far.

Julian Selizer sums it all up nicely in a commentary on this growing debacle. Obama is risking the credibility he fought so hard to gain due to neglect of thorough background checks or, worse, a casual disregard for their findings. That potential loss of credibility will weaken his legislative mandate at a time when America needs it to remain strong.

I would be the last to castigate a fellow citizen over tax lapses. There are a few embarrassing blots on my own record and I don’t expect to be rewarded for paying up when they came to light. I suspect a great many Americans can admit to similar circumstances… but that just points to another reason why our government leaders need to be held to a higher-than-average standard: if they don’t honor their duties of citizenship, why should the rank and file?

This is a bad trend, Mr. President. I call on you to correct it fast and hard before the cynicism of the Bush years returns to taint your own prospects. We need you to succeed… ethically.

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