On February 1, I urged President

Barack Obama

to withdraw former Senator

Tom Daschle

‘s nomination as secretary of health and human services in order to “revive the change brand he campaigned and won on.” On February 2, Obama said he was “absolutely” standing behind his nominee. On February 3, the

New York Times

joined me in calling on Daschle to step aside, and by that afternoon he had withdrawn.

Daschle’s failure to pay back taxes raised questions about his suitability for the job, but it was his ties to healthcare firms– payments of some $300,000 from companies he might have regulated as HHS secretary–that were most troubling. Daschle’s activities, though not officially lobbying, made for a lucrative trade advising clients seeking influence with the government. The appearance of a conflict of interest undermined Obama’s promises to bring a new era of responsibility to Washington. Thankfully, Obama–who has imposed tougher ethics and lobbying rules than any president–understood he had “screwed up” and moved swiftly to put aside Daschle as a distraction from moving ahead to fix our broken healthcare system.   KATRINA vanden HEUVEL


Faced with the choice between a television-tested, sound bite-savvy African-American spin doctor and a Southern party hack who only recently quit his all-white country club, the

Republican National Committee

chose the black guy as its new chair. The process only required six ballots. This represents progress for the GOP, but just a little. The new chair,

Michael Steele

, is no less doctrinaire in his social and economic conservatism–and in his foreign-policy neoconservatism–than the man he beat,

Katon Dawson

. That didn’t stop religious-right operatives from objecting to Steele’s suggestion that a party that has lost the past two election cycles might need to tinker with its image to become viable again.

The right-wingers needn’t have worried. While Steele will put a more attractive facade on the party, he proposes no change of direction. This is just a job for him. Ever since he lost a 2006 Maryland Senate race–in which his backers hired homeless people to distribute literature creating the false impression that Steele was a Democrat–his stated ambition has been to lead the national party. There is no evidence to suggest that he will try to–or that he could–turn the GOP toward the more modern, tolerant, environmentally friendly and socially responsible stances adopted by conservative parties in Britain and France. In fact, while he will put a smarter, smoother face on the party, Steele promises the sort of ideological and ethical continuity that should keep the Republicans just where

George W. Bush


Dick Cheney

left them.   JOHN NICHOLS