Winners: Barack Obama, and the American people, for not getting Tom Daschle as their new Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Like many advocates of national health insurance, FCP was initially enthusiastic about Tom Daschle’s appointment as HHS secretary, and as director of a new White House Office of Health Reform. If the main reason national health care reform failed in 1993 was the inexperience of Hillary Clinton in the ways of Washington, wouldn’t a former Senate Majority Leader be the perfect person to shepherd it through Congress in 2009? But news of Daschle’s failure to pay taxes on the free car and driver with which he had been provided provoked a flood of other disturbing disclosures.

In the gentle words of the New York Times editorial which appeared the day that Daschle withdrew himself from consideration:

Mr. Daschle’s financial ties to major players in the health care industry may prove to be even more troublesome as health reform efforts proceed. Like many former power players in Washington, Mr. Daschle cashed in on his political savvy and influence to earn $5 million in recent years, including more than $2 million from Alston & Bird, a law and lobbying firm; more than $2 million from the private equity firm, InterMedia Advisors, which provided the car and driver; and hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches to interest groups, including those representing health insurance plans, medical equipment distributors and pharmacy boards.

And in the never gentle words of Glenn Greenwald:

Daschle’s expertise and insights, gleaned over 26 years in Congress, earned him more than $5 million over the past two years, including $220,000 from the health-care industry, and perks such as a chauffeured Cadillac, according to the documents.

Other than his ability to know how to swing doors wide open in Congress, what “expertise and insights” worth that level of compensation does Tom Daschle have? It’s pure legalized influenced peddling, and — upon being booted out of the Congress — he ran right to it as quickly as he could and engorged himself at the trough as hungrily as possible. In doing so, he followed perfectly in the footsteps of his second wife, Linda, who served as the Clinton administration’s Acting Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, and then, once she left her position running the agency that regulates the airlines industry, returned to her extremely lucrative lobbying practice with her largest clients being American Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Boeing, Lockheed and various airports and airport executive associations — the very companies that she had been regulating. …There’s no need to withhold judgment on Daschle himself. He embodies everything that is sleazy, sickly, and soul-less about Washington. It’s probably impossible for Obama to fill his cabinet with individuals entirely free of Beltway filth — it’s extremely rare to get anywhere near that system without being infected by it — but Daschle oozes Beltway slime from every pore.

FCP doesn’t know whether the words of the Times or Greenwald had any effect on Daschle or Obama. If they did, at least in this instance, the press is actually helping to make the system work again.

Sinner: Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, for opposing the prosecution of any Americans responsible for torture, and repeating the favorite tale of torture apologists, about Philippine agents who supposedly got “Abdul Hakim Murad to reveal a plot to blow up 11 American airlines over the Pacific” after being “beaten nearly to death”—although, even in this story, it was not the torture which supposedly got Murad to talk, but the threat of being turned over to Israel’s Mossad. Then Cohen says “the conventional wisdom that torture never works” is “so counterintuitive as to be an absurdity.”

Beyond the fact that torture is illegal, immoral, and inhuman (which Cohen naturally glosses over), whether torture has ever worked is an idiotic question. The intelligent question is, What works best most of the time? And about that there is no doubt at all: non-coercive interrogation is invariably more effective than torture at eliciting genuine, actionable intelligence. This is what more than forty retired generals and admirals have been arguing for years—including all the ones standing behind President Obama when he signed the executive order outlawing American torture in the first week of his administration.

Winners: Newsweek’s John Barry, Evan Thomas, Ron Moreau, and Sami Yousafzai for a superb cover story detailing all the ways that Afghanistan resembles Vietnam, and all the reasons why Obama needs to quickly grasp the lessons from that comparison.

Sinner: Fareed Zakaria, for another piece in the same issue, in which he manages to sound like every journalist who, thirty-five years ago, argued that just a little more intelligent effort could guarantee American success in Vietnam. Except that Zakaria was writing about Afghanistan.

Charles Kaiser is the author of The Gay Metropolis and 1968 in America. He has been media editor for Newsweek, a member of the metro staff of The New York Times, and a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where he covered the press and book publishing. To learn more, visit