Monday, February 23, 2004


In the Peter Sellers film classic, Being There, Sellers plays a simple-minded gardener. When Seller's character is asked his view on political subjects, his replies in the film are along the lines of "You need to water flowers in the
spring for them to blossom in the summer".

Sellers� simpleton answers are misinterpreted by the sophisticates around Sellers as being the casting of pearls of wisdom by Sellers, when in fact Sellers doesn't have a clue. In Ron Suskind's book The Price of Loyalty, a reporting on the experiences of Paul O'Neill while he was Treasury Secretary, one gets the sense that O'Neill at times wondered if he was dealing with a similar simpleton in the person of President George W. Bush.It�s clear in the book that O'Neill was obviously asking himself, "Does President Bush have a clue?"

Suskind writes:

There were a dozen questions O'Neill expected the president to ask...Bush didn't ask any. He looked at O'Neill not changing his expression..The
President said nothing. No change in expression.

"I wondered from the first, if the President didn't know the question to ask",O'Neill recalled, or did he know and just not to want to know the answers?
Or did his strategy somehow involve not showing what he thought? But you can ask questions, gather information, and not necessarily show your hand. It was strange.

O'Neill started to wonder about the President...The problem O'Neill felt,was that this President's lack of inquisitiveness or pertinent experience... meant he didn't know or really care about the position of the U. S. Government.

O'Neill was watching Bush closely. He threw out a few general phrases, a few nods, but there was virtually no engagement.

As for National Security Council meetings, Suskind writes that O'Neill reports that Bush allowed Condoleezza Rice to run them.

It is these observations alone, of Bush by O'Neill, that will make this an important book for historians studying this Bush Administration. But there is much more we learn from this book. We learn that the Bush Administration in its earliest days was very much focused on regime change in Iraq. Suskind reports:"O'Neill said...'From the start, we were building a case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country...' "

And, of course, we learn about O'Neill. Indeed if one can picture George Bush as in someways the gardener in Being There, O'Neill can certainly be seen as a similar character. A character that just doesn't quite get the Big Picture or the nuances in the little things.

Time after time, O'Neill positions himself as the honest man, the get things done person, the thinking out of the box person, when in fact he bumbles along, misses the important points and finally ends up getting fired. O'Neill's bumbling adventure in Washington would be hilarious, if it wasn't for the seriousness of the topics at hand and the ramifications for America's future.

Some have already declared that George Bush is the worst president the United States has ever had. As O'Neill reveals himself in this book through Suskind, it is not a stretch to view this Treasury Secretary as among the worst to be Treasury Secretary in the history of the United States.

It is nothing short of alarming that a book of more than 300 pages revealing the thoughts of O'Neill when he was Treasury Secretary does not once address the topic of government spending. Indeed, the entire book contains the term federal spending just once. Yet through out the book on page after page, we are harangued about O'Neill's quite legitimate concerns of a growing deficit. But his solution is to battle Bush and advise against any tax cuts without ever mentioning, or even acknowledging, that there is indeed a second part to the equation, specifically spending cuts. Not once!

For O'Neill there is only one solution to growing budget deficits, more taxes. All government expenditures are simply assumed as a given. For a Treasury Secretary who prides himself on thinking out of the box and finding solutions to problems big and small, it is remarkable that he doesn't find even one dollar worth of government expenditures that should be eliminated.

Like O'Neill's curiosity about a president who shows no engagement, asks
no questions and seemingly doesn't get it, one must ask about O'Neill,
Does the man have a clue?

He simply doesn't engage, ask questions or seemingly care about government spending.

It is because of this that O'Neill has to be viewed as nothing more than a spend and tax big government advocate.

So where did O'Neill focus his time, while Treasury Secretary if not on spending cuts? On attempting to design regulations that limit carbon dioxide emissions! On a trip to Africa with rock star Bono, where he determines water wells are the answer.

Yes, the Treasury Secretary based on a murmur from Bush, helped the Environmental Protection Agency's chief Christine Whitman design a carbon dioxide policy that everyone else in the Administration including the President seemed to ignore. The plan was never implemented.

From there O�Neill's next big stand took place during his tour of Africa, where seemingly entirely missing the oppressive, socialistic nature of many of the African governments as a major cause of their poor economic situation, he calls for United States support in building water wells in parts of Africa. His call for water wells gained as much support as his carbon dioxide initiative. Zero.

In the book, we learn that O'Neill views Vice-president Dick Cheney as a significant influence in the Bush Administration. At one point, which can only be viewed as hilarious, O'Neill attempts to mimic the manner in which Cheney holds meetings, of course, with none of the success that Cheney has when he holds meetings.

In its proper context, this book must be viewed as a major embarrassment not only for the president but for O'Neill himself.

Indeed, while O'Neill trumpets his independence and forthrightness, we know through the book that O'Neill recognizes early on that there was no evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. On this major issue though, the bumbler decided to go with the flow and instead of voicing his concerns publicly, he decided to take a tour of Africa with Bono.

Ron Suskind's book, thus, does a tremendous service in providing a glimpse into just exactly how some major players in this empire operate, with little that can be said positively about them in terms of integrity, principles or deep understanding.

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