There’s something missing from the top of this New York Times story on how “competing ambitions” for “Washington’s financial rewards” and for “public life” shaped Tom Dashcle’s post-Senate career.
When Tom Daschle said he was quitting his lucrative consulting job to become President Obama’s health secretary, an old Republican rival from the Senate, Trent Lott, teased him about giving up the good life.
“Tom is a believer,” said Mr. Lott, who led the Republicans when Mr. Daschle was Democratic leader. “He was very serious about wanting to take on that cause. I couldn’t even get him to joke with me about it.”
For four years, ever since voters in South Dakota turned him out of office, Mr. Daschle has seemed to yearn for the power and prestige of his public life. He vowed not to become a lobbyist, telling friends that salesmanship was beneath him. He spent as many as two days a week working without pay at a liberal research institution on issues like health care and climate change. He had contemplated a run for president in 2008.
“He loved public service,” said his friend Tony Coelho, a former House Democratic whip, “and he always looked at, was there an opportunity to get back in.”
But Mr. Daschle was also eager for Washington’s financial rewards. He had benefited from his wife’s pay as an aviation lobbyist; they share a $2 million home in a fancy Washington neighborhood. But with three children from a previous marriage, he aspired to some wealth of his own “to leave his kids and grandkids,” said Mr. Coelho, who made his own move to Wall Street.
After passing on the scuttlebutt that Daschle saw salesmanship as “beneath him,” the story fails to contrast that assertion with the fact that Daschle made most of that $5 million in in four years by acting as a “rainmaker”—a rose is a rose is a rose—for Alston & Bird (a well-connected law firm with registered lobbyists on staff) until the story’s 14th paragraph. If you’re reading on paper, that’s past the jump.
Until that point, readers are left with the impression that along with his pro-bono policy work, that his biggest concession to the Washington money machine was merely being married to and cohabiting with a lobbyist. Along the way to the first mention of his actual job, we’re treated to a bunch of quotes from friends who put great stock in the legal distinction between registered-lobbying and the type of un-registered cashing in on influence and connections that brought in the bucks.
Things shape up in the story’s latter section, where we get more detail on exactly what Daschle, who has no law degree, did at Alston & Bird (hitting up Democratic donors for business, plotting “legislative strategy” with lobbyists and clients). It’s good that it’s there, because it’s vital to understanding what Daschle did for the last four years. And that’s why something about the job should have come at the top of the story.Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.