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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill » User review

Over Time, an Invisible Treasury Secretary

  • Apr 6, 2004
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Whose loyalty to whom and/or what? What is the "price"? How was it determined and by whom? The subtitle evokes another question: While obtaining his "education" during his 23 months as Secretary of the Treasury in the current Bush administration, what did Paul O'Neill learn? After research which involved 19,000 documents and hundreds of interviews, Suskind responds to these and other questions throughout the 349 pages which comprise his book. Of course, O'Neill is the focal point but much (most?) of the controversy about this book is a result of Suskind's portrayal of President Bush, in large measure based on O'Neill's comments about him. For example, O'Neill's most widely quoted observation that, during various meetings, President Bush was "was like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people." Here's another: "I wondered from the first, if the President didn't know the questions to ask or if he did know and just not want to know the answers? Or did his strategy somehow involve never showing what he thought? But you can ask questions, gather information and not necessarily show your hand. It was strange."

To me, stranger yet is what the book suggests about Vice President Cheney, a close personal friend of O'Neill's for several decades who was primarily responsible for his appointment as Secretary of the Treasury. About two years later, Cheney informed him that the President "has decided to make some changes in the economic team. And you're part of the change." When Cheney then asked O'Neill to claim that it was his decision to leave public service, he refused. "I'm too old to be telling lies now." If the President Bush plays his cards close to the vest, the Vice President seems to keep his locked up in an undisclosed location. In decades to come, historians may well judge Richard Cheney to be his nation's most enigmatic as well as most influential Vice President. "We thought we knew Dick," O'Neill observes. "But did we?" Does anyone?

In this book, Suskind seems to take O'Neill at his word, that what O'Neill expressed to him is what he sincerely believes is true when commenting on various people and his relationships with them. Others are far better qualified than I to separate fact from opinion, to separate O'Neill's perceptions from the realities of his tenure. Obviously, O'Neill deeply resents what he views as mistreatment of him while Secretary of the Treasury; he also seems to lament even more his inability to influence the process by which issues were discussed and by which policies were formulated in the Bush administration. He characterizes cabinet-level debates as "incestuous amplification," driven more by self-serving expediencies than by principles.

Frankly, I do not know how much to believe of O'Neill's account even as I welcome it as another source of information, commentary, and evaluation of the current Bush administration as our nation proceeds into an uncertain, indeed perilous future.

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review by . August 10, 2005
When I first saw this book, esepcially with its black cover, I thought it was simply another Bush-bashing book using Mr. O'Neill's words as a cover. In fact, I found it quite dispassionate and reasonable. It definitely jives both with other accounts (notably Christine Whitman's) and the Bush administration's actions. Especially since I consider myself a pragmatic Republican, I can appreciate the likes of O'Neill having to butt against ideologues. I can also see how Bush surrounded himself with a …
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Robert Morris ()
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Professionally, I am an independent management consultant who specializes in accelerated executive development and breakthrough high-impact organizational performance. I also review mostly business books … more
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The George W. Bush White House, as described by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, is a world out of kilter. Policy decisions are determined not by careful weighing of an issue's complexities; rather, they're dictated by a cabal of ideologues and political advisors operating outside the view of top cabinet officials. The President is not a fully engaged administrator but an enigma who is, at best, guarded and poker-faced but at worst, uncurious, unintelligent, and a puppet of larger forces. O'Neill provided extensive documentation to journalist and author Suskind, including 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. The result,The Price of Loyalty, is a gripping look inside the meeting rooms, the in-boxes, and the minds of a famously guarded administration. Much of the book, as one might expect from the story of a Treasury Secretary, revolves around economics, but even those not normally enthused by tax code intricacies will be fascinated by the rapid-fire intellects of O'Neill and Fed chairman Alan Greenspan as they gather for regular power breakfasts. A good deal of the book is about the things that O'Neill never figures out. He knows there's something creepy going on with the administration's power structure, but he's never inside enough to know quite what it is. But while those sections are intriguing, other passages ...
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ISBN-10: 0743255453
ISBN-13: 978-0743255455
Author: Ron Suskind
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date Published: August 31, 2004
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