The Price of Loyalty
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O'Neill, the U. Treasury Secretary for the first two years of the Presidency of George W.
The files, which range from memoranda to the President to handwritten notes to "sensitive" internal reports, cover a sweeping array of foreign and domestic issues. They also display the attending political and personal matters that often determine policy. They were collected as part of a Treasury Department archiving process in which every item that crossed O'Neill's desk, from every department in government, was copied into a TIF, or image, file.
Documents cited in "The Price of Loyalty" are presented with explanations of context and little comment. They speak, as does all irrefutable evidence, for themselves.
Some people might not agree with him on that. O'Neill had supported Bush's father's tax increase. A lot of people might have a problem with that. He recommended at one point a gasoline tax to reduce consumption and have money left over for the environment.
These were all things that could cause trouble. And O'Neill likes to speak his mind. He wanted Bush and Cheney to know that. He comes to his own conclusions, and it might be hard for him to be just another bird in the nest. Meanwhile, the cheeseburgers haven't arrived, so Bush, as O'Neill tells it, kind of snaps up from the conversation and says, "Where are the cheeseburgers? You think you're up to getting some cheeseburgers? Card all but runs out of the room. O'Neill's a corporate legend, but he's also a guy who basically went out to lunch with the receptionists at Alcoa and believes that it's part of the virtues that make a good person and a good organization.
He sees this, and it strikes him as the act of a bully. He looks back on this lunch often during the next two years. Because, of course, he accepts the president's call and takes the job. His old friend from the Nixon and Ford administrations, Alan Greenspan, is important in that decision.
The Price of Loyalty
O'Neill's wife is against it. She weeps when he says, "I'm going down to Washington. And she's worried. At one point, at the end of the cheeseburger lunch, O'Neill says, "Oh, there's one other thing. So he begins to organize a Treasury team in a hurry. Before he even gets to Washington, he has his first experience with [Bush's chief political adviser] Karl Rove, who is organizing an economic conference down in Texas for early January, and O'Neill's name is mentioned in the press as someone who will attend.
O'Neill's too busy, so he picks up the phone and calls Rove. He says, Next time you put my name on a list, first you should call me and ask. And then you should ask me whether this is a good idea. He says at that point, he still thought that political people still had, let's just say, a traditional view of their role inside a White House organization.
That they are there to carry out policies that are decided upon and created by people who know how to make policy. As it turns out, the "economic conference" was just a reward for major donors, not worthwhile in any way. So he's not even confirmed yet, and he's thinking, Who the hell is Karl Rove?
The Price of Loyalty, by Ron Suskind
Why not? Karl Rove is not an expert in anything other than getting people elected to office. You need someone there who can explain all sides of an issue in good faith. O'Neill recognized this as a crisis.
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He went to Dick Cheney during the transition. Says, Dick, we need to set up a process that works here, in economic affairs especially. But even generally, you need a process to really look at choices and consequences and the available facts and present those to this president along with an explanation for what those choices and consequences are all about. Otherwise, as O'Neill says, all you'll have are "kids rolling around on the lawn. If the economy performs, do O'Neill's objections matter?
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