We don’t get to agree with George Packer everyday, so it pleases us to announce that we share his concerns about the message it sends when Cabinet officials fail to pay their taxes:
The fact that two men with much combined experience in the public sector didn’t pay what they owed the government suggests that, at their lofty income level, cheating is almost universal. And for the rich to get away with underpaying taxes is every bit as much a part of the culture of selfishness and irresponsibility that Barack Obama pledged to end as bankers paying themselves big bonuses while enjoying even bigger public subsidies. You can’t credibly denounce the latter one day and find wiggle room for the former the next. You can’t usher in a shining period of good government by fudging your principles when it matters—with those closest to you. If a Republican President were to do the same thing, Democrats would be crying hypocrisy. They shouldn’t keep quiet when the hypocrisy is on their side.
For Obama, it’s especially important not to have a double standard. A lot of his influence in cleaning up the corruptions of the private sector will be rhetorical. To do what needs to be done with Wall Street, he’ll need all the moral authority he can muster. If he allows two tax cheats into his cabinet, he’s going to lose a portion of it before his Presidency is one month old.
UPDATE: A third Obama appointee, Nancy Killefer, Obama’s choice to serve as the country’s chief performance officer, now has withdrawn her nomination because of unpaid unemployment taxes on household help. Guess she didn’t have enough personal friendships in the Senate.