President-elect Barack Obama's team reacted predictably to the disclosure that Timothy Geithner, the nominee for Treasury secretary, failed to pay a chunk of his federal taxes over several recent years. * * * On Tuesday, when Mr. Geithner's failures were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, the Obama transition office issued a statement calling his underpayment of taxes "honest mistakes." On Wednesday, Mr. Obama himself said it was "innocent." * * * As much as Mr. Obama and his team may wish it, however, the disclosures cannot be dismissed so easily, or papered over. The just-the-facts report of Mr. Geithner's tax transgressions, compiled and released by the Senate Finance Committee, paints a picture of noncompliance that is considerably more disturbing than his supporters are acknowledging. * * * Even in the best of economic times, it would be hard to accept a Treasury secretary — who, after all, is in charge of the Internal Revenue Service — with a cavalier attitude toward paying his taxes. Today, in a time of economic peril, the nation cannot afford a Treasury secretary with a tainted ability to command respect and instill confidence.
Obama's trite dismissal of Geithner's tax mess as an "embarrassment" is reminiscent of the casual, too cool manner in which he waved away the self-serving financial dealings he had with convicted racketeer Tony Rezko as nothing more than "boneheaded." But hey, if we can have the tax-challenged Charlie Rangel as the powerful chair of the House Ways & Means Committee, then why not a similarly tax-challenged individual as the Secretary of the Treasury? It is becoming increasingly clear that when Obama talks about the need to end partisan bickering in Washington, D.C. he really is only hoping that Republicans stop pointing out when Democrats break the law.