Treating Daschle and Geithner consistently


The NYT reports on Tom Daschle's tax hiccups:

After Timothy F. Geithner, Mr. Obama's Treasury secretary, faced similar issues, some senators may have little appetite for confirming another nominee with tax problems.

I don't understand why the logic can't cut in the opposite direction -- i.e., After Geithner faced similar issues and was confirmed, it's only fair that the same standard of guilt be applied to Daschle. Which theory makes more sense: "We forgave Geithner, but it turns out we had only a very small quantity of forgiveness to hand out"; or "We acknowledge that as a general rule people make mistakes, and we're going to apply this rule to both Geithner and Daschle"?

It might be true that Daschle's situation is somehow worse -- that Daschle's intention to avoid taxes is more obvious -- but this isn't clear to me from the evidence on the table. Sure, there's more money involved ($150,000 versus $50,000) but not so much more that we're talking about a different class of criminality. What I see is a defense strategy that is more or less the same: (1) acknowledge that humans are imperfect and that mistakes were made; (2) apologize for wasting the precious time of the finance committee; and (3) blame the accountant.   

And in one important P.R. respect, the Geithner case was worse. This was the first paragraph of one of the first Times stories on Geithner's tax problems:

The question being asked around Washington on Wednesday was this: Shouldn't the man chosen to run the United States Treasury -- which oversees the Internal Revenue Service -- have had a better understanding of what taxes he owed?

You can ask a similar question about Daschle -- shouldn't a man who was a member of the Senate finance committee have a better understanding of what taxes he owed? -- but it's not forward-looking and damning in quite the same way.

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Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.
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