Shootout at Credibility Gulch

How long before Obama team's tax woes undermine top man's message?

By Robert A. George
|  Thursday, Mar 5, 2009  |  Updated 11:59 PM EDT
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Team Obama

"Sure, we support tracking down tax cheats! We've got several of them working in the administration!" Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner might be testifying in front of the House Ways and Means Committee -- run by Chairman Charles Rangel who has some tax problems of his own.

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President Obama is right now flying in the stratosphere of personal popularity. The NBC/Wall St. Journal poll has 68 percent of Americans reporting a favorable view of Obama. It took Bill Clinton getting impeached to reach numbers like that!

Still, the poll shows that Obama is more popular than individual policies (only 54 percent think Obama has the right policies for the country). This demonstrates two things: 1) There is a deep reservoir of good will for the president and, 2) the public likes and trusts Obama to do the right thing.

That last part is key. Trust was a major factor in the last two presidencies. Clinton, of course, had all sorts of problems with the truth -- and ended up being, as mentioned, impeached because of it. Fairly or not, the American people also thought that the Bush administration stretched the truth -- at best -- in getting the country into Iraq. This explains why the so-called "character" issue is still an important element in public life

Obama had best do all he can to keep his administration's credibility high in the public mind. Unfortunately, some of Obama's nominees are not doing their boss much of a favor. For example, which administration member was sent up to Congress to urge that it pass a law designed to crack down on off-shore tax havens?

Who else could it be but -- Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner!?!?  The guy who paid off a delinquent $40,000 tax debt -- acquired when he was working for the International Monetary Fund -- before taking the job?

Yep, that guy:

"We fully support the legislation ... on offshore tax centers, and we look forward to working with you as part of the broader effort to address international tax evasion," Geithner told the House Ways and Means Committee.

The administration's support greatly improves the chances of offshore tax legislation becoming law this year, said Michigan Senator Carl Levin, chief sponsor of the Senate bill.

Well, as the old saying goes, it takes a thief to catch a thief.  

Of course, the administration had to send Geithner: They couldn't have its trade representative arguing the case for cracking down on overseas tax cheaters, right? 

Well, no -- because that is an office that hasn't been confirmed yet.  Why not? Well, of course, the nominee -- former Dallas mayor and one-time U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk -- has to pay off a $10,000 tax bill! 

He'll also have to amend his tax returns for the last three years.

Again, the polls show that the public currently believes in Barack Obama.  But considering what the new president and his team are asking of the public to accept -- outrageous amounts of spending and a fair bit of increased taxes as the answer to economic turmoil -- this perpetual nominating of agency heads delinquent in their taxes will take its toll over time.

The cost will be the president's credibility. Once that starts to erode, getting through the rest of his program immediately becomes that much more difficult -- even with his own party running Congress.

Robert A. George is a New York writer.  He blogs at Ragged Thots.   

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