The Disgruntled Dylanologist

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

Just Like Tom Daschle’s Blues: A Taxing Time for Obama

Everybody said they’d stand behind me

When the game got rough
But the joke was on me
There was nobody even there to call my bluff

When Tom Daschle was nominated last week to head the Department of Housing and Human Services, few, if any, Washington insiders blinked an eye. Not only is the former Senator from North Dakota one of the nation’s leading experts on health-care reform, he played a pivotal role in Obama’s rise from relative obscurity to his present perch atop the political heap.

And while there are no real ‘done deals’ in Washington, Daschle’s nomination seemed about as close as it gets. One of the earliest backers of Obama’s campaign, Daschle was critical not only in soliciting support from the Democratic party but in crafting a strategy that helped defeat Obama’s most formidable opponent for the nomination, Hillary Clinton.

Tom Daschle could have had just about any position in the Obama White House he wanted. And he made no bones about the fact he wanted to run Health and Human Services.

And even though Daschle did his best to offer a plausible explanation as to why he failed to pay over $120,000 in back taxes on the millions he’s earned since leaving the Senate, it was too little too late. Clearly, the repeated choruses of ‘mea culpa’ had become a cacophonous distraction Obama could no longer afford in these critical early days of his presidency.

And so last Tuesday, in the face of what would be the second of three tax-related scandal to ensnare this administration (the third instance of an Obama appointee coming up short with Uncle Sam would be Nancy Killefer, who had been chosen by President Obama to be the Deputy Director for Management at OMB), Barack Obama accepted Tom Daschle’s withdrew his nomination for Secretary of HHS.

Political currency aside, the withdrawal of Daschle’s name as head of the Department of Health and Human Services undoubtedly cost the newly minted president more than precious political capital—it cost him a friend, a confident and political partisanship aside, probably the best man for the job. But perhaps most significantly, it severely tarnished the cult of personality that has transformed Barack Obama into one of the most recognizable, most revered and most worshiped people on the planet.

But Barack Obama isn’t the only ‘rock star’ in Washington. The people with whom Obama has surrounded himself have de facto been lumped into that category as well. Not since John F. Kennedy blew into town a half century ago has the phrase, “the best and brightest,” been bantered around with more aplomb. But even rock stars are aware of the pitfalls of not giving the Man his shake.

The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel—all have tussled with the taxman. In the case of Willie Nelson, his run-in with the IRS cost him a pretty penny. $16.5 million in pretty pennies, to be exact. Ironically, the one rock star who has something to say on just about everything, has very little to opine on taxes.

In fact, of the 500-plus songs Bob Dylan’s written over the past four and a half decades, the word ‘taxes’ appears in just one, the fourth verse of the brutally vicious, “Ballad of a Thin Man”:

But nobody has any respect;
Anyway they already expect you;
To just give a check;
To tax-deductible charity organizations

Of course, the people Obama wants surround himself aren’t rock stars, they’re politicians. They’re supposed to be restoring our faith in government, not magnifying our disdain for it.

But it’s getting increasingly difficult to jump on the Obama bandwagon when it seems the ‘best and brightest’ can even file a simple tax return…which brings us back to Tom Daschle’s recent tax blues.

You don’t fly to the front of the political pack as quickly as Barak Obama has without a few people watching your back. And for Barack Obama that man was Tom Daschle. Daschle contributed to crafting Obama’s cult of personality as much as anyone, effectively serving as Obama’s de facto guardian angel to ensure the impatient junior Senator from Illinois’ ascension to the highest office in the land didn’t suffer the same fate as Icarus, the Greek mythological figure fell to earth when he flew too close to the sun.

But in an ironic twist of fate, it was Daschle, not Obama, who unwittingly assumed the role of Icarus—brought down by the simmering, slow-burn animosity growing in this country toward politicians who think they can operate at a different standard (not to mention different tax bracket)—than the rest of us.

And so in the end, maybe the ‘rock star’ mantra the media’s affixed to Obama isn’t so far-fetched. Clearly, Obama understands the most enduring tenet of rock n’ roll as well as anyone—“It’s better to burn out than it is to fade away.”

In the case of Tom Daschle, however, we all know who got burned…

And picking up Angel who
Just arrived here from the coast
Who looked so fine at first
But left looking just like a ghost

For a complete list of songs that evoke our disdain for that age-old pastime of paying your taxes, check out Dave White’s clever compilation, “Top 10 Songs To Do Your Taxes By”.


February 9, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Windy City Politicians, Rainy Day Women, Senate Candidate #5

They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to make a buck.

They’ll stone ya and then they’ll say, “good luck.”
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Cigars, it seems, aren’t the only thing they’re smoking in the backrooms of Chicago.

Last week it was reported that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich allegedly schemed to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for $1 million dollars.

Again, that’s $1 million dollars for a Senate seat held by the man who was just elected to lead the free world, making him the most recognizable person on the planet.

What could this guy possibly have been thinking?

Maybe in a time when it’s become a national pastime for politicians to see how many zeros they can put behind the next bank bailout, mortgage mark down or cash-and-carry plan for the failing car industry, Governor Blagojevich thought six zeros was a bargain. Maybe Blagojevich thought it was his duty as governor to uphold Chicago’s longstanding tradition of political corruption and scandal.

Or maybe Blagojevich is just an idiot.

Mental competency aside, anyone with a shred decency knows there’s a larger problem here hanging like a hazy cloud of smoke over this whole sordid affair. In one fail swoop, one governor’s half-baked scheme to sell-out democracy somehow managed to further retard the electorate’s already ailing perception of our political system.

To Blagojevich’s credit, this Wiley politician from the Windy City’s North side wasn’t completely impervious to the fact that most people don’t have $1 million cash just lying around. According to FBI wiretaps, Blagojevich would have been willing to have made do with any one of the following:

  • a substantial salary for himself at a non-profit foundation or organization affiliated with labor unions;
  • a spot for his wife on a paid corporate board;
  • promises of future campaign funds;
  • a Cabinet post or ambassadorship

Four, count ‘em four ways to commitment a felony. How considerate of the governor to give his Senatorial suitors so many ways to further debase the public’s trust.

In this season of giving, however, it seems Old Saint Nick isn’t the only one ‘making a list and checking it twice.’ Blagojevich had a list of his own. And that’s where it starts to get really interesting…

According to the FBI, prominent Oak Brook businessman Raghuveer Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi held a meeting October 31 during which Blagojevich claimed he’d been approached by a representative for an unnamed “Senate Candidate #5” who offered cash in exchange for the Senate seat. On Wednesday, it was revealed that Jesse, Jackson, Jr., was that candidate.

Jackson spokesman Rick Bryant says that while Jackson did discuss the Senate seat with Nayak, he never asked him to do—or give—anything. The notoriously talkative Jackson has said even less. Interesting.

It’s also started to get interesting for Barack Obama.

The president-elect also insists he hasn’t had any contact with the Illinois governor regarding his vacant Senate seat. But Obama has yet to give his transition staff the same clean bill of health—and perhaps with good reason.

As it turns out, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s incoming chief of staff, is a rough-and-tumble politico in his own right. But until Emanuel assumes his new position on January 20, he will continue to represent the good people of Illinois’ 5th congressional district. And can you guess who held that job before Rahm? That’s right—Rod Blagojevich.

For the Obama team to expect us to think that the paths of Emanuel and Blagojevich haven’t crossed, and crossed repeatedly—especially considering the fact Emanuel was charged with securing his new boss’s old Senate seat for Obama family friend, Valerie Jarrett—we’d all have to be smoking something.

And while it’s definitely rained on Jarrett’s political aspirations, it seems she’s traded an umbrella for a golden parachute. Just before the Blagojevich scandal broke, Jarrett’s name was withdrawn from the running for the Senate seat. Shortly thereafter, she was named ‘special adviser to the president.’ Interesting.

I would imagine our fair Bob is watching all of this with some interest as well.

From unequivocal disdain of the flatfoots on Fourth Street,

Yes, I wish that for just one time;
You could stand inside my shoes;
You’d know what a drag it is;
To see you

to unapologetic enmity of those who have mastered the art of war profiteering,

Let me ask you one question;
Is your money that good;
Will it buy you forgiveness;
Do you think that it could

Bob Dylan has always held the feet of the media and the men who manipulate it to the fire.

Dylan once famously claimed, “I don’t write political songs.” But in light of the sheer disregard for justice exhibited by Rod Blagojevich, Dylan need not concern himself with chronicling this particular crisis of faith. There’s enough here to launch a thousand politically minded minstrels.

Besides, if you’re looking for a Dylan song to bookend this cockamamie case of political corruption and mind numbing incompetence, all you have to do is turn the clock back 42 years…

Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone.

They’ll stone you when you are walking home.
They’ll stone you and then say you are brave.
They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave.

In 2008, however, those words are less whimsical social commentary and more reflective of the massive political drubbing a certain governor from Illinois is about to rightfully endure.

December 15, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment