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The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill Hardcover – January 13, 2004
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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 are simply revelatory: O'Neill asserts that Saddam Hussein was targeted for removal not in the 9/11 aftermath but soon after Bush took office. Paul O'Neill makes for an interesting protagonist. A vaunted economist from the days of Nixon and Ford, he returns to a Washington that's immeasurably more cutthroat. And while he appears almost naïvely academic initially, he emerges as someone determined to speak his mind even when it becomes apparent that such an approach spells his political doom. --John Moe
The Times Blasts through the wall of silence surrounding the White House.
Financial Times The most spectacular attack on Bush by a former senior official.
Justin Webb, BBC The most sustained and damaging criticism of the Bush administration from a former insider since the President came to power.
New Yorker A damaging read...Our breezy President, if he is re-elected, may well find himself ruined by his refusal to heed O'Neill's warnings.
Sunday Times O'Neill's book is priceless.
Esquire The most explosive book of the year.
Guardian One of the most damning White House exposés of recent times.
Independent A considerable challenge to the official version of history. --George Bush Secrets
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So, at the end, what’s been accomplished, or what’s the bottom line in parlance of finance. Not only the illusory $5 trillion some surplus, that Clinton had so judiciously hitched, went out the door, our current national debt stands at $19.8 trillion instead. After the delusionary supply side economic swindle, the irresponsible and unfair tax cut, the Iraq war, the bailout of 2008 Wall Street – what in fact is the tangible contribution O’Neil had made for the good of America, for the world, for humanity, or even for his own family. O’Neil might as well be loyally and blindly served the off-kilter Bush and double down on his bullion-paved career, or at a minimum, spent more time with his wife and preserve his integrity.
O’Neil must have known, the philosophical incongruity gulf existed between him and the new Bush, in fact, he had made a list of why he shouldn’t join the Bush team when he was summoned for the Treasury Secretary appointment and, against his own and his spouse’s inner voices, he pushed on. Just what had transpired, what tilted his balance, what craving within his inner soul is responsible for goading him on, to such pointless pursuit, for the last stretch of his vivacity – the answer is clearly ambition, which consistently trumps integrity even if integrity has been one’s trademark.
I guess the same can be said about Collin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Don Rumsfeld, and Tenet, the entire inner cabinet, with the exception of Cheney, because Dick Cheney is more, he’s genetically sadistic and evil.
What’s the lesson learned here, true integrity should be rock solid, it can’t be compromised, even modestly, by temptations of material possessions or, worse still, vanity. Yet, time and again, integrity ends up being enslaved by ambition. The all too smart O’Neil, or Powell for that matter, must have known the underneath character flaw about the junior Bush: a draft dodger, a non-achiever, as once ridiculed by historian Chalmers Johnson, a deadbeat loafer who couldn't hold a job as gas station attendant, if it weren’t for his Dad; one who hadn’t won the 2000 election, despite the enormous Republican machinery, and ended up stealing the election from Al Gore by way of supreme court politic – a puppet controlled by a behind scene evil force, whose agenda is self-enrichment and perpetual war for America, led by the iniquitous, sinful, wicked, immoral, warmonger Cheney.
More than anything, this book is the ultimate critique of a boss by an executive level manager. Now just forget about Bush and O'Neill for a second, and think about all your experiences working under others. Most of the time when any of us reports to somebody, we are keenly aware of mistakes the boss makes despites all our warnings and later efforts to mitigate the errors. Take it from me, reader of too many books, that this is the ultimate in its genre.
I believe it's human nature to imagine ourselves as far more capable than we are when we get power over others without first experiencing terrific suffering. Therefore, I don't think Bush is fundamentally different than any of us in this respect. It took me 3 times through this book to get that.
Suskind represents the experience of Paul O'Neill in a poetic manner. Whether Suskind set out to achieve such a lofty goal when he started this book is unknowable. This is Greek tragedy material yet it all happened.
O'Neill's served as the first lasting shot because of the inability of the White House to force him to renege, but also because of his stature O'Neill had a seat at the table of some of the bigger discussions of the first two years of the Bush White House (though not at the political table). What he saw shocked the man who had spent decades working for previous republican presidents. O'Neill is a man of reason, principle, and cautious analysis. The carelessness with which Bush, Cheney, and the political people acted on what should have been serious issues amazed and shocked O'Neill.
As such, O'Neill began to speak out off script. He was considered loose cannon by the political team, and was eventually held at arms length. Finally, after the mid-term elections of November 2002, Cheney fired O'Neill.
The audio recording was very well done by actor Edward Hermann. Overall the book was eye opening. I highly recommend this book.