Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The High Rhetoric of Sweeping Ethics Reform faces Reality

Obama’s Pledge to Reform Ethics Faces an Early Test

Published: February 2, 2009
In the campaign, Mr. Obama assailed Washington’s “entire culture” in which “our leaders have thrown open the doors of Congress and the White House to an army of Washington lobbyists who have turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” He vowed to “close the revolving door” and “clean up both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue” with “the most sweeping ethics reform in history.”

The language, however, was always more sweeping than the specifics. He spoke of refusing campaign money from lobbyists but took it from the people who hired them. The ethics plan he outlined, and eventually imposed on his administration, did not ban all lobbyists outright but set conditions for their employment and did not cover many who were lobbyists in everything but name.

As for Mr. Daschle and Mr. Geithner, who also failed to pay some taxes, White House officials said the errors should not obscure their records. Mr. Obama “believes that both Secretary Geithner and Secretary-Designate Daschle are the right people for very important jobs,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, “and he does not believe that that will undercut their ability to move forward on an agenda that makes sense for the American people.”

That argument has drawn sharp criticism from left and right. “Is this really the message he wants to convey to voters in just his first month in office, a message that it’s O.K. to break or skirt the law just as long as you’re a good guy with a special skill set?” asked Andy Ostroy, a blogger writing on The Huffington Post, a liberal Web site.


© Janet Crain

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