Even in Disgrace, Tom Daschle Still Has a Fan in Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Former Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle withdrew from consideration for the health secretary job under Obama when the outcry over his failure to pay $128,000 in taxes showed no signs of dying down. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David Kirkpatrick paid tribute in "Daschle Was Torn Between Public and Private Ambitions, His Friends Say."

As a congressional beat reporter, Stolberg penned several valentines to Daschle, then the Senate Democratic leader, and took the loss of his South Dakota seat to John Thuneawfully hard. From her November 4, 2004 post-election tribute:

The soft-spoken leader has often been described by his fellow Democrats as a man of decency. On Wednesday, Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called him 'a patriot and a statesman,' and said he would be 'remembered as one of the giants to ever grace the Senate stage.'

She still can't quite shake her admiration of Daschle. In Thursday's story, Stolberg and Kirkpatrickbegan with more encomiums:

When Tom Daschle said he was quitting his lucrative consulting job to become President Obama's health secretary, an old Republican rival from the Senate, Trent Lott, teased him about giving up the good life.

"Tom is a believer," said Mr. Lott, who led the Republicans when Mr. Daschle was Democratic leader. "He was very serious about wanting to take on that cause. I couldn't even get him to joke with me about it."

For four years, ever since voters in South Dakota turned him out of office, Mr. Daschle has seemed to yearn for the power and prestige of his public life. He vowed not to become a lobbyist, telling friends that salesmanship was beneath him. He spent as many as two days a week working without pay at a liberal research institution on issues like health care and climate change. He had contemplated a run for president in 2008.

"He loved public service," said his friend Tony Coelho, a former House Democratic whip, "and he always looked at, was there an opportunity to get back in."

Even when bringing up Daschle's pursuit of riches,the Timescouched Daschle's quest in terms of helping his family, and found former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey to make excuses for him, while lamenting thepassing of a timewhen "a former lawmaker could go halfway into private enterprise while keeping a hand in public service."

But Mr. Daschle was also eager for Washington's financial rewards. He had benefited from his wife's pay as an aviation lobbyist; they share a $2 million home in a fancy Washington neighborhood. But with three children from a previous marriage, he aspired to some wealth of his own "to leave his kids and grandkids," said Mr. Coelho, who made his own move to Wall Street.

Those competing ambitions collided this week, as Mr. Daschle withdrew from consideration for the health secretary's job amid an uproar over his failure to pay $128,000 in taxes for a private car and driver provided by a prominent Democratic donor, coupled with public shock that a man who left the Senate on a $158,000-a-year salary had gone on to earn $5 million in the four years since leaving office.

"He got caught in this backlash against high-level compensation," said former Senator Bob Kerrey, now president of New School University in New York. "I think he drew a pretty clear line around what he wanted to do to earn a living - he could have made a lot more money if he had registered as a lobbyist but he didn't want do it - and he carved out a lot of time for forms of public service for which there is no remuneration."

Others said Mr. Daschle's situation marks a loss for Washington and the end of a time when a former lawmaker could go halfway into private enterprise while keeping a hand in public service.

The story's text box also downplayed Daschle's new-found wealth ($5 million in four years since leaving office): "A former senator was reluctant to join the ranks of lobbyists."