Friday, February 6, 2009

Saint Obama?

I like what I've seen of President Barack Obama so far but ... wow! According to this picture, there may be more to the man than anyone has guessed! I have to give credit where it's due; Scott Adams' blog pointed me at this particular pic.

I've already expressed admiration for the man in general (Barack Obama, not Scott Adams, although I do hold Adams in fairly high regard as well), and particularly for his criticism of the greedy Wall Street fat cats for lining their pockets with bonuses while the rest of us pay the price for their excesses. Since then, President Obama has put the proverbial kibosh on those same bonuses, freezing Wall Street salaries until such time as the economy turns around or, as he himself put it, until the taxpayers have been repaid. Three Cheers!

As commendable as these things are, this past week I came across another story which impressed me more than anything else I've heard or read thus far and, ironically, it has to do with Obama's first mistake since being elected President. He has gone to great lengths to surround himself with the best and brightest minds that he can find. Unfortunately, some of those whom he selected had questionable pasts and conflicts of interest that disqualified them from their posts.

Tom Daschle, Obama's pick for the post of Health and Human Services Secretary had failed to report certain income for consulting work and personal use of a car and driver on his tax returns between 2005 and 2007. He had also incorrectly deducted charitable contributions which were not eligible.

Nancy Killefer was nominated for the post of Chief Performance Officer, but also had to step aside because the DC government had filed a tax lien on her home in 2005 for failing to pay unemployment tax for her household servants.

Some might wonder what's the big deal. Both Daschle and Killefer had belatedly made good on their taxes, and goodness knows we've seen politicians and civil servants forgiven transgressions seemingly much more grievous than these. However, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is notoriously harsh with ordinary citizens who make even honest mistakes on their tax returns, and President Obama did not want to create the perception of a double-standard. "Ultimately," he said, "it's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules -- you know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes."

Not content to simply correct these errors, President Obama then did an amazing thing. He invited representatives of several news networks into the oval office, one by one, for brief interviews in which he took full responsibility for the debacle, making comments like "I screwed up" and "I'm frustrated with myself, with our team". He then pledged to right the situation and to ensure that nothing like this happens again. "I'm here on television saying I screwed up, and that's part of the era of responsibility. It's not never making mistakes; it's owning up to them and trying to make sure you never repeat them and that's what we intend to do."

How refreshing is that? A politician with the integrity to admit that he's not perfect and to accept responsibility for his mistakes. It may not seem like that much. It may seem no more than the American people have a right to expect from their leader. Sadly, it's an exceedingly rare thing nowadays, not only in the United States but around the world. Here's hoping that other world leaders sit up, take notice, and follow President Obama's example.

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