I know it pains many of you to hear it, but integrity has not been one of President Obama’s evident virtues, and the nomination of his Chief of Staff Jack Lew to replace Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury is a particularly vivid example. The nomination demonstrates either hypocrisy or dishonesty (or both) no matter how one chooses to look at it.
This has nothing to do with Lew’s qualifications for the job: I’m certain he is sufficiently qualified, and is as likely as anyone else to help lead the nation through the fiscal wilderness, which is to say “not very.” The problem with Lew’s nomination, in the context of the President’s integrity, is two-fold. Although Obama and his campaign’s successful strategy was to demonize Mitt Romney as a grasping and venal corporate raider who accumulated big corporate bucks while doing little of value, Jack Lew’s resume includes receiving a $945,000 bonus in January 2009 after a short time working at Citigroup, which was in the process of collapsing financially and seeking (and receiving)a massive taxpayer bailout. Obama also made hay during the campaign by implying there was something shady about Romney’s investments in Cayman islands-based institutions. Jack Lew. meanwhile, oversaw Cayman island investment funds while at Citigroup. In his 2008 campaign, Obama took special aim at one of them known as Ugland House, and a Senate hearing on the subject designated it as a facilitator of tax evasion. Jack Lew had investments in the Cayman islands, and, like Mitt Romney, had them with Ugland House.
How can one reconcile Lew’s past with Obama’s words and supposed values? One can’t. If the President really believes, as his attacks on Romney indicated, that accepting large corporate bonuses and investing in off-shore tax havens indicates too untrustworthy a character for public office, then it is hypocritical to nominate Lew at this crucial time for the nation’s economy. If, on the other hand, he believes that such conduct isn’t really very important when a man’s skills are what the nation needs for a crucial position, then his attacks on Romney were cynical and misrepresented his true beliefs.
Lew’s transgressions by Obama’s past stated standards seem worse than Mitt’s; after all, Mitt’s bonuses from Bain didn’t come when the company was bleeding red and seeking a bailout. Lew’s explanations to the GOP Senators grilling him on the matter yesterday didn’t shine with ethical clarity either. His justification for the bonus was, essentially, that everybody did it. Regarding his investments in the Caymans, Lew resorted to moral luck: he lost money, so the tax man wasn’t cheated out of cash. Neither is a real defense. His real defense is “It doesn’t matter.”
Maybe it doesn’t. His nomination indicates these things don’t matter to President Obama. That is not what the President told us before, however.
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