David Hawkings, at Roll Call, writes almost wistfully of what might have been if Tom Daschle, President Obama’s first choice to be secretary of Health and Human Services, had been confirmed by the Senate where he had been majority leader before his constituents in South Dakota voted him out of office, most likely on the grounds that he had come to represent the interests and values of the Beltway more than those of his home state.
It was five years ago Wednesday that President-elect Barack Obama announced the former majority leader would be returning to government as Health and Human Services secretary, where he would be in charge of drafting legislation overhauling the health care system and then steering it to enactment. The choice seemed an obvious, but astute, way to boost the likelihood that the new president’s top domestic priority would move through Congress relatively smoothly and quickly, and to assure the bureaucracy would then implement the inevitably complicated changes to medical insurance rules with minimal fuss.
Pretty thoughts, indeed. But Daschle couldn’t make it to confirmation, which stalled over some tax issues. So he stuck around Washington where he:
… now embodies the archetype of the Washington elder statesman — out of the limelight, but hardly out of influence. He’s a top rainmaker at the premier lobby law firm DLA Piper, where he’s got sway in the financial services, telecommunications, trade and tax worlds in addition to health care. He’s also on a range of public and private boards. And as a founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center, he is regularly called on to explain the current congressional calcification and to prescribe ways for ending it.
Hawkings’s piece describes, then, the depressingly familiar trajectory of many of those neo-populist Democrats from the prairies (think Dick Gephardt) and would be of only passing interest except for the roll call of former Daschle aides (and, by the way, why do congresspeople need so much help?) who have encysted themselves into the flesh of Washington and government. As Hawkings writes, Daschle had
… been a Hill staffer before his House election, and soon thereafter started cultivating what’s become a legendary staff alumni association. (The network’s influence on public life may only be exceeded by the legions who once worked in the Senate for the late Edward M. Kennedy.)
This is what is meant by the phrases “the political class,” and “the unelected government.” And a tidy description of just how things work in the Imperial City. To the immense satisfaction and enrichment of that same political class.