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The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill Books

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Ron Suskind

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist provides a provocative odyssey behind the scenes of the White House to reveal the inner operations of the administration of George W. Bush, furnishing a close-up view of the president and his advisors as they develop … see full wiki

Author: Ron Suskind
Genre: Biography & Autobiography, Social Science
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: September 30, 2004
1 review about The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the...

The War in Iraq Was Pre-Destined

  • Oct 18, 2004
Pros: A riveting and indeed, revealing gaze inside a dysfunctional Presidency.

Cons: None

The Bottom Line: A lifelong Republican, O’Neill put his country above Party, so that the average American could understand the depths to which our government is no longer answerable to us.

"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."-- Louis Brandeis, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court, 1913

The White House of George W. Bush, as described by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill—former CEO of Alcoa Inc.—is a world out of kilter, a study of politics over policy, of a Presidency woefully out of touch with people, and painfully neglectful of its constitutional mandates. Policy decisions are determined not by carefully weighing the subtle complexity of the issue's and thoughtful debate; rather, they're dictated by a small cadre of conservative ideologues and political advisors, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Political Advisors Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, all of whom operate outside the scrutiny of top cabinet officials.

President Bush despite his folksy deportment, or perhaps because of it, is according to O’Neill’s observations, not a fully engaged administrator but an enigma. A poker-faced man who is, at best, is guarded, but at worst, is regrettably uncurious, unintelligent and a mere puppet, dancing as it were, at the behest of his Republican handlers.

Book Excerpt: O’Neill was watching Bush closely. He threw out a few general phrases, a few nods, but there was virtually no engagement. These cabinet secretaries had worked for over a month on detailed reports. O’Neill had been made to understand by various colleagues in the White House that the President should not be expected to read reports. In his personal experience, the President didn’t even appear to have read the short memos her sent over.

That made it especially troubling that Bush did not ask any questions. There are so many worth asking about each of these areas, O’Neill, thought he as he sat quietly, dozens of queries running through he head.

“This meeting was like many of the meetings I would go to over the course of two years,” he recalled. “The only way I can describe is that, well, the President is like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. There is no discernable connection.”

Written in collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning author, journalist, and documentarian Ron Suskind, O'Neill provided extensive documentation including work schedules with 7,630 entries and a set of 19,000 documents that featured memoranda to the President, thank-you notes, meeting minutes, and voluminous reports. Paul O'Neill has an interesting pedigree. A well respected and learned economist from the days of Nixon and Ford, at the behest of Cheney he agreed to return to a Washington (from retirement) that is inestimably more cutthroat, partisan and increasingly dysfunctional.

The result of O’Neill’s first hand retelling of his two years at the helm of Treasury is The Price of Loyalty, a fascinating albeit frightening glance inside the meeting rooms, the in-boxes, and the minds of the now infamously guarded Bush administration. As one might expect the majority of the book, as told by the former Treasury Secretary, revolves around economics. But even the average American, not normally stimulated by the intricacies tax code, and economic & monetary policy, will be fascinated—as I was—by the highly charged, lighting-quick intellects of O'Neill and Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan as they gather for regular policy setting breakfasts. The met in an attempt to chart a course of sanity for economic policy within the Bush Administration, and tried to stave off, or at least moderate the administration rush into ill-conceived tax cuts.

One might be given to conclude that a fair amount of the book is about circumstances O’Neill only had second-hand knowledge of, or could at best only postulate. But he’s close enough to halls of federal power to know that there is something disturbing going on within the Bush administration's power structure. And he was close enough to make certain revelatory assertions, the most revealing of which is that Saddam Hussein was targeted for removal not in the aftermath of 9/11, but soon after Bush took office.

Book Excerpt: On the afternoon of January 30, ten days after his inauguration as the forty-third president, George W. Bush met with the principles of his National Security Council for the first time…He (Bush) turned to Rice. “So Condi, what are we going to talk about today? What’s on the agenda?”

“How Iraq is destabilizing the region, Mr. President,” Rice said, in what several observers understood was a scripted exchange. She note that Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region…Rice said that CIA director Tenet would offer a briefing on the latest intelligence on Iraq…A major shift in U.S. policy was underway. After more then thirty years of intense engagement—from Kissinger and Nixon to Clinton’s last stand—America was washing its hands of the conflict in Israel. Now, we’d focus on Iraq…the hour was almost up, Bush had assignments for everyone. Powell and his team would look to draw up a new sanctions regime. Rumsfeld and Shelton, he said, “should examine our military options.” That included rebuilding the military coalition from the 1991 Gulf War, examining “how it might look” to use U.S. ground forces in the north and south of Iraq and how the armed forces could support groups inside the country who could challenge Saddam Hussein…O’Neill would investigate how to financially squeeze the regime. Meeting adjourned. Ten days in, and it was about Iraq.

The dramatic, unfolding narrative within the pages of The Price of Loyaltyis like no other book that has been written (or that I have read) about the Bush presidency. O’Neill is the only member of Bush's innermost circle to leave (Richard Clarke notwithstanding) and then to agree to speak frankly about what has really been happening inside the White House. At its core The Price of Loyaltyis a candid assessment of former O'Neill’s, two years as the administration's top economic official, a principal of the National Security Council, and a sometimes tutor to the new and largely ignorant President.

O'Neill's account of the enigmatic Bush Administration is supported by Suskind's interviews with many participants in the administration, by transcripts of meetings, and by capacious documents that cover most areas of domestic and foreign policy. Most of these were supplied, as I mentioned above, by O’Neill himself. The resulting tome is a sometimes dry, but oftentimes riveting expos√© of a President woefully out of touch with the people he was elected to govern, and it serves as an unparalleled look into an ongoing presidency.

Book Excerpt: A lesson O’Neill had learned in his days running OMB (Office of Management & Budget), and never forgot, was that the budget is often the only place where there is a true competition of disparate ideas—a competition over who will get the money and who won’t. And the only way for the competition to work is for the budget to be finite. A ballooning deficit—he’d often tell cabinet secretaries or department heads, who feared his visits—is a sign of casual thinking and tough choices not made. Balancing a budge, thereby, is not just a matter of fiscal good sense. It compels companion virtues—such as intellectual rigor and honest assessment of the intentions that underlie action. Do you know what you’re doing—and do you know why?

New York Times Book Reviewer- Michael Tomasky had this to say about the book, "[T]he news-cycle controversies have obscured the book's central, and important, thesis....What enriches THE PRICE OF LOYALTY, aside form the accretion of persuasive detail, is its assertion that in this administration, a time-honored notion of public service has been deeply corrupted....[W]hether O'Neill was a brilliant Treasury secretary or a mediocre one, he did regard the public trust as a sacred matter, and the case THE PRICE OF LOYALTY makes about the debasement of the policy process is a strong one."

I must say that I agree with that Tomasky’s analysis. Any American with a notion to know what is going on inside their government should read the The Price of Loyalty. Republicans of course will shy away calling the book “Bush Bashing,” but any citizen interested the in well being of the nation should give it a read. Democracy depends on an informed citizenry who put country above Party, in order to survive. Though a lifelong Republican, Paul O’Neill put his country above his Party, so that we the average American could understand the depths to which our government is no longer answerable to We The People.


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