President Obama performed his first major mea culpa yesterday when he acknowledged "screwing up" in reaffirming his support of Tom Daschle for Secretary of health and Health and Human Services in the face of his admittedly "embarrassing" tax errors, just hours before Daschle withdrew his nomination. Daschle's departure was punctuated when Nancy Killefer, who was up for the new post of Chief Performance Officer, submitted her withdrawal on similar grounds.
While contrition is refreshing, it will only work for so long, as its novelty wears off and makes Obama look weak and indecisive, especially given that almost every person of means has exploited a loophole—or ten—in America's byzantine tax code. What's more, in these resignations, the country has lost two promising and effective advocates of reform--indeed, Daschle is arguably the person best suited to lead the thorny, highly political and economically vital healthcare reform effort.
So, what to do? Blame the tax man and reform the tax code. As Republicans have long said, the tax system is fraught with misincentives, inefficiencies and bureaucratic waste that offer short-term advantage to the rich and connected, while disadvantaging the entire systerm in the long-term. By signaling such a proactive response to these very public missterps, Obama could go on the offensive in a way that would advance his coaltion building, in a way that amounts to serving them more than just milk and cookies.