paul o’neill: too old to lie, to rich to be intimidated

Former Bush administration Treasury Secretary, Paul ONeill, is doing press this week in conjunction with the release of Ron Suskinds new book, The Price of Loyalty. The book is about the year and a half ONeill spent inside the Bush White House, before he was fired for, among other things, his opposition to what he saw as irresponsible tax cuts in the face of a growing budget deficit.

So far tonight, Ive read three pieces on ONeill; the article in Time, the 60 Minutes transcript, and the New York Times piece. Theyre all worth reading.

From my perspective, it doesnt look as though there are many bombshells. Its all stuff weve heard before, or suspected, but Im thinking that perhaps itll have more of an impact this time, as its coming from a man with unquestionable republican credentials. (The guy worked in the Nixon White House. When he says that the Bush administration is secretive in comparison, it means something. He was there.) The administration will no doubt try to discredit him by saying that this is just sour grapes, but hes ready.

When asked about this on 60 Minutes, heres what he said: “I’m an old guy, and I’m rich. And there’s nothing they can do to hurt me.”

Heres a clip from the Time article that I found interesting:

When the corporate scandals rocked Wall Street, O’Neill and Greenspan devised a plan to make CEOs accountable. Bush went with a more modest plan because “the corporate crowd,” as O’Neill calls it in the book, complained loudly and Bush could not buck that constituency. “The biggest difference between then and now,” O’Neill tells Suskind about his two previous tours in Washington, “is that our group was mostly about evidence and analysis, and Karl (Rove), Dick (Cheney), Karen (Hughes) and the gang seemed to be mostly about politics. It’s a huge distinction.”

And heres one from 60 Minutes:

The president had promised to cut taxes, and he did. Within six months of taking office, he pushed a trillion dollars worth of tax cuts through Congress. But O’Neill thought it should have been the end. After 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan, the budget deficit was growing. So at a meeting with the vice president after the mid-term elections in 2002, Suskind writes that O’Neill argued against a second round of tax cuts.

Cheney, at this moment, shows his hand, says Suskind. He says, You know, Paul, Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter. We won the mid-term elections, this is our due. O’Neill is speechless.

Read the articles if you get a chance. Theres plenty of interest- from the revelation that there never was any evidence of weapons of mass destruction, to the fact that the planning for military action against Iraq was initiated far in advance of 9-11.

The most interesting thing that I took away from it all, however, was O’Neill’s impression that Bush is an ineffective leader that is either unwilling or incapable of communicating his ideas, if he has any, to those around him. ONeill at one point describes Bush as a blind man trying to convey his vision of the world to a room full of deaf people. While none of the mentions of Iraq or corporate cronyism really surprised me, I was surprised by the extent to which O’Neill does not think Bush is a capable leader.

Ill just end with another quote from ONeill: Im too old to begin telling lies now.

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