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The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill Paperback – September 2, 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Ward Just The New York Observer A first-rate piece of work....The best we're likely to have for some time....An intelligent and nuanced narrative.
The New York Times An invaluable contribution both to the historical record and to the fierce public debate over the nature of the Bush administration's true views and motivations on issues of war and peace.
Business Week Suskind is a smart writer....He deftly picks through some 19,000 documents and hours of interviews to open an often eye-popping window into the Bush White House.
The New York Review of Books A detailed, deeply disturbing look at how the Bush administration makes policy.
Paul Krugman The New York Times An invaluable, scathing insider's picture of the Bush administration.
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Perhaps the greatest contribution of this book is the details of O'Neill's friendship with Greenspan. It helped me appreciate the enigmatic Chairman as a passionate fiscal conservative. I was pleasantly surprised at how the book laid out the thought processes behind the actions of the two most powerful unelected bureaucrats in America. Unfortunately, the rigorous economic analysis that O¡¦Neill espouses was ignored on several occasions. The impact of the capital gains tax cut was glossed over, as was the elimination of the estate tax. Keynesian economics as a rationale for fiscal policy was almost completely ignored.
I recommend this book to everyone who is willing to look past Suskind's politics. There will be people who choose to hear only the negatives of the Administration, and those who are offended by his attack on the holy grail of supply side economics. That is their choice. What you get out of it will depend on whether or not you paid attention in economics class.
The book vividly portrays Mr. O'Neill's two years as Secretary of the Treasury in President Bush's White Cabinet and the collision of two policy-making processes - one based on a dispassonate technocrat-driven study of the facts and one based on dogma.
I disagree with the reviewers who felt this book is a rant by a disenchanted former insider. I also disagree with the reviewers who felt that this book is an indictment of the Bush White House.
The book is a narrative history of Mr. O'Neill - his views, thinking, and ideology are reflected in his actions and words. Mr. Suskind did a wonderful job of capturing the character of the man during his two years in the White House.
Why 4 1/2 stars? Part of the allure of Mr. Suskind's book is that it allows the reader to decide what he/she believes about Mr. O'Neill. Is he an independent thinker or a loose cannon?
On a couple of smaller points, I wanted more information. For example, during Mr. O'Neill's involvement with the clean water for Africa issue, Mr. Suskind reported that experts felt that the facts did not support Mr. O'Neill's policy recommendation. Such an allegation cut to the quick Mr. O'Neill's idea of how policy should be formulated - a dispassionate review of the facts - especially since the issue was outside his area of expertise. I wanted to know how he responded. Did he change his views? Did he dig for additional information? Or did he have an underlying prickly side that did not handle criticism well? Valid qustions about an interesting individual, but, as I mentioned, minor points in an otherwise excellent narrative history.
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.