Hilda Solis is not a “toxic asset” in the Obama administration’s personnel portfolio.
In fact, the small-business tax troubles of the California congresswoman’s husband–which Republican partisans, nervous-nelly Democrats and media elites who cannot see the forest for the trees imagine as a cabinet disqualifier–confirm that Solis has precisely the real-world experience that is going to be required in a White House that seeks to tip balance away from Wall Street and toward Main Street.
Republican senators are holding up President Obama’s nomination of Solis to serve as his secretary of labor because they imagine they can score politics points by attacking her as a “tax cheat” and potentially blocking another Democratic cabinet pick.
Last week’s withdrawal of Tom Daschle as the president’s nominee to serve as secretary of health and human services, which came after it was revealed that the former Senate majority leader had failed to pay more than $140,000 in taxes (probably a lot more), was a blow to the new president’s image as a change agent. And it built on the narrative being developed by Republicans that Obama is surrounded by hustlers–including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and another withdrawn nominee, Nancy Killefer, who had been slated to serve in the newly created position of chief performance officer–who have no qualms about raising taxes because they don’t pay them.
But senators who would compare the tax troubles of the Solis family with the accounting gimmicks of high fliers like Daschle or Geithner are creating a false construct that reveals everything about their own myopic understanding of the current economic crisis–and their unsettling inability to distinguish the abuses of Wall Street from the challenges of Main Street.
No one is going to get very far arguing that Daschle or Geithner are anything but what the average American sees: powerful insiders, with legions of accountants and tax lawyers, who by just about every evidence were gaming the system in order to pad their personal bank accounts.
The tax bills Daschle and Geithner were avoiding added up to more than tens of millions of American families earn in a year. These men move in worlds far removed from the grassroots experience of the citizens they purport to serve.
With Solis, it’s the opposite. The daughter of immigrants from Nicaragua and Mexico, she was the first member of her family to go to college (and got in as part of a program to aid low-income students), and when she got out she went to work helping disadvantaged kids finish high school and get into community colleges. As a state legislator and a member of the US House of Representatives, Solis has represented working-class neighborhoods and immersed herself in the sort of immigration, labor and small business issues that mark her as a uniquely well qualified nominee for Labor Secretary. She has, as well, remained far more linked than most of Obama’s cabinet picks to people who get their hands dirty working–including her husband.