During almost two years on the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to slay the demons of Washington, bar lobbyists from his administration and usher in what he would later call in his Inaugural Address a â€œnew era of responsibility.â€ What he did not talk much about were the asterisks.
The exceptions that went unmentioned now include a pair of cabinet nominees who did not pay all of their taxes. Then there is the lobbyist for a military contractor who is now slated to become the No. 2 official in the Pentagon. And there are the others brought into government from the influence industry even if not formally registered as lobbyists.
President Obama said Monday that he was â€œabsolutelyâ€ standing behind former Senator Tom Daschle, his nominee for health and human services secretary, and Mr. Daschle, who met late in the day with leading senators in an effort to keep his confirmation on track, said he had â€œno excuseâ€ and wanted to â€œdeeply apologizeâ€ for his failure to pay $128,000 in federal taxes.
But the episode has already shown how, when faced with the perennial clash between campaign rhetoric and Washington reality, Mr. Obama has proved willing to compromise.
Every four or eight years a new president arrives in town, declares his determination to cleanse a dirty process and invariably winds up trying to reconcile the clear ideals of electioneering with the muddy business of governing. Mr. Obama on his first day in office imposed perhaps the toughest ethics rules of any president in modern times, and since then he and his advisers have been trying to explain why they do not cover this case or that case.
â€œThis is a big problem for Obama, especially because it was such a major, major promise,â€ said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. â€œHe harped on it, time after time, and he created a sense of expectation around the country. This is exactly why people are skeptical of politicians, because change we can believe in is not the same thing as business as usual.â€
Anyone gullible enough to believe that Obama was anything more than a politician deserves to be disappointed.