Ron Suskind, thanks to Paul O'Neil, has written an excellent book giving us much insight on the inner workings of the White House. Suskind is a former Wall Street Journal writer. And, it shows. The substance of the book is dense with information and documentation. But, the prose is lively and easy to read.
According to the former Secretary of the Treasury, Bush and Cheney dominate the White House. Bush leads based on stubbornly held personal opinions, and Cheney executes the plans reflecting the President's opinions. Occasionally, Cheney feeds opinion to Bush when the latter has none to begin with. But, everyone else is just there to make a case for supporting these same opinions. Thus, most of the Presidential decisions are not well founded in objective intelligence.
Within this managerial climate, there is no room for intellectual debates, exchange of information, or even consensus building. It is pretty much Bush and Cheney's ways or the highway. Paul O'Neil, an intelligent, assertive, and independent thinker, did not fit within these parameters, and Cheney quickly showed him the next highway exit.
When Paul O'Neil was recruited as Secretary of the Treasury, he seemed to fit very well with the Administration. He fit perfectly the mold of the old guard intelligentia who had reached the top level in business, with also much government experience. He is definitely a conservative, pro business fellow. He seemed just another of the old boys. But, things did not turn out that way.
Paul O'Neil, an independent thinker, ended up clashing at every turn with the Administration. He is a conservative. But, that does not mean he is a unilateralist in foreign policy. Thus, he felt highly uncomfortable with the lack of strong international support for our invading Iraq.
On the domestic front, O'Neil felt very uncomfortable with the progressive dismantling of our strong fiscal position we had inherited from the Clinton White House. For him being conservative also means fiscally conservative. It does not mean unraveling the Federal government. O'Neil felt strongly that beyond the first tax cut that was necessary, the following rounds of tax cutes were dangerous as they created a rising structural budget deficit.
Finally, with his strong background in business and economics, he felt that the steel tariffs were totally unjustified and would trigger a rise in trade conflicts and unfruitful WTO trade negotiations.
If you objectively review O'Neil's positions, he is typically right. And, the Bush-Cheney team is not. Our level of unilateralism can easily be considered excessive. The rounds of tax cuts were much too deep and did create a rising structural deficit. Also, the steel tariffs did poison the WTO round at Cancun and the overall worldwide trading climate. Recently, under pressure of penalties from the WTO, Bush had to eliminate these same steel trade tariffs. The later did not achieve anything besides political embarrassment in the international arena.
Interestingly enough, the Bush-Cheney team has chosen not to address any of the issues raised by O'Neil. But, instead they are conducting an investigation on potential government information leaks. This is probably another effort to shut O'Neil's mouth once and for all. But, the jack is out of the box. Take advantage of it. This is a must read during this Presidential election year.
This book also nicely complements other related recent books such as Paul Krugman's 'The Great Unraveling' and David Cay Johnston 'Perfectly Legal.' Reading these three books will make you a much better informed voter regardless of your party's stripes.