There are some who will celebrate former Senator Tom Daschle’s decision to withdraw his nomination as Secretary of Health and Human Services and as Director of the White House Office on Health Reform. They should not. Even for those who disagree with his approach to reform — and I certainly disagreed with significant portions of it — the withdrawal is bad news.
First, because Senator Daschle is bright, very bright. And anyone tackling substantial changes to a system as complex, critical and impactful as America’s health care system better be very bright.
Second, unlike many bright people, Senator Daschle is a proven political pragmatist. He understands the need for buy-in from competing interests and for compromise. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t have principles and a philosophy. He has both. But he also has a commitment to getting reform passed, which means he’d listen to and, where possible, incorporate the ideas of those who oppose his philosophy.
Third, Senator Daschle knows Congress and is trusted by the President. This would enable him to effectively influence the former and to ably represent the latter. Without his presence, reformers in Congress may have more sway and President Barack Obama will have a less forceful voice in negotiations.
Fourth, the individual(s) nominated in his stead may lack any of these strengths. One of the names floated, for example, is former Governor and Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean. Governor Dean, a doctor by profession, showed himself to be a smart organizer as head of the DNC. There were also plenty of times, both at the DNC and a presidential candidate in 2002, that he demonstrated a more ideological and erratic approach to issues like heatlh care reform than Senator Daschle.
There are others President Obama could turn to for leadership on health care reform. None are likely to possess the leadership traits possessed by Senator Daschle.
Senator Daschle’s tax return errors says more about the complexity of the country’s tax code than it does about his character. Those who oppose his approach to health care reform may find themselves nostalgic for his approach before long.