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An Admission Against Interest

Yesterday President Obama openly admitted that he had erred in nominating former Senator Tom Daschle to be Health and Human Services Secretary after Daschle withdrew his nomination in light of his tax woes. Obama was somewhat candid, saying “I screwed up.”

Such admissions are rare in public figures, especially politicians. They are often seen — and treated — as signs of weakness. To admit error is to invite further scrutiny, with such loaded questions as:

What, precisely was the error?

Was it in trusting Daschle’s word?

Was it in not properly vetting Daschle?

Was the magnitude of Daschle’s tax problems — six figures worth — not fully known?

Was the size of his error known, but the significance of such an error not properly understood?

What lessons have been learned from this error?

What steps are being taken to prevent such errors from being made in the future?

These are all awkward questions, and Obama’s admission of error opened the door to all of them. He could now capitalize on what’s being hailed as his disarming frankness. This would require addressing the issues made clear in Daschle’s withdrawal. He could also leave things as they are and get called out for covering up poor judgment with mock-candor.

Obama’s admission is a good first step, but woefully incomplete — especially coming from a man who ran for office on the strength of his judgment.


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