It is a Washington ritual as tried and true as the filibuster and
the leaked memo: a highly placed official, current or former, tells
all in a book-length indictment of administration policy and
The latest has just hit the bookstores, a kiss-and-tell volume
called "The Price of Loyalty," by reporter Ron Suskind, featuring
the incendiary observations of former Treasury Secretary Paul
O'Neill, who was fired in December 2002. Even the rollout has
followed the usual pattern: advance word of Mr. O'Neill's choicest
allegations, a national television interview probing same, and the
book's actual release Tuesday, along with simultaneous rebuttals by
the White House - and the threat of a Treasury Department
investigation into whether O'Neill was allowed to give Mr. Suskind
the documents he did.
That riffling sound emanating from Washington reflects the scores
of inside-the-beltway types flipping to the index, checking either
for their own names or for others of special interest. Bush
political guru Karl Rove, an endless source of fascination for
students of this White House, scores 32 references.
But the main show is O'Neill's observations about President Bush
and Vice President Cheney, by now well-reported: that Bush seemed
detached from policymaking; that he was intent on removing Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein from power, long before the 9/11 attacks;
Cheney's unprecedented clout as vice president; and this White
House's intensely political approach to policy.
O'Neill and the administration formally parted company after the
former Alcoa CEO disagreed with plans for another major tax cut
after the 2002 midterms, a GOP victory that triggered what he calls
"a smugness." O'Neill recounts a meeting in which he raised concerns
about "what rising deficits would mean to our economic soundness,"
and was cut off by Cheney, who said, "[former President] Reagan
proved deficits don't matter."
O'Neill has opened himself up to charges that he is trying to
avenge his ignominious firing. Foreseeing such allegations, he
insists his goal is to make people stop and think about the state of
the nation's political process. Although O'Neill had already served
16 years in government, including a tour as deputy director of the
White House budget office under President Ford, he emerges from his
time near the top of the policy food chain appearing to some as
naive, and to others as indifferent to how his remarks will be used
He is, O'Neill himself has pointed out, a wealthy man near the
end of his career, and so has nothing to fear. Still, the whirlwind
that has emanated from the Suskind book serves as a reminder of how
the capital works.
"Washington is a rough town," says Robert Reich, Labor secretary
during President Clinton's first term and author of his own
reminiscences about life in an administration, "Locked in the
Cabinet." "Someone told me when I got there, if you prick your
finger, the sharks will bite off your arm. If you make a misstep, it
can be very rough, pretty dangerous. …