Barack Obama began his presidency riding on a seeming tidal wave of hope for change. One could almost perceive an aura of infinite possibility accompanying him. After he took the oath of office, President Obama was greeted with a virtually unprecedented barrage of obstruction, his every step mined with ardent wishes for his failure – the country be damned. The kamikaze role of the right wing of the right wing will be recorded by history as one of the lowest moments of the Republic.
As soon as Barack Obama became president Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed that the goal of the Republican Party was to make sure that President Obama only served for one term. Rush Limbaugh, fresh from eluding criminal drug charges, infamously brayed that he wanted Barack Obama “to fail”. This was being said as the economy of the United States wavered on the brink of catastrophe – yet the “failure” of Barack Obama was more important than the future of this country.
These and other incendiary remarks lit wildfires of looniness and lunacy across the country, culminating in a Koch Brothers-bankrolled pseudo grass roots movement known as the Tea Party, and better known as the G.O.Tea Party. The grand strategy of the G.O.Tea Party has been to hobble, cripple and hamstring the Obama presidency, even at the expense of further pain and misery being suffered by the American people.
It is within this context that I read the reviews of “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and The Education of A President” by Ron Suskind. Mr. Suskind, who is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, has studiously researched the inner workings of the Obama White House, especially when the tsunami that hit Wall Street was at its peak. And Mr. Suskind does not paint a pretty picture.
“Confidence Men” makes the case that the economic team that was assembled by President Obama was not the right team and that, in any event, was dysfunctional. We learn that, as Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner essentially ignored a directive from President Obama to assess the advisability of reorganizing Citibank because he didn’t think it was a good idea. Larry Summers, then Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors denigrates President Obama’s skills and acumen, comparing him unfavorably to Bill Clinton.
More telling is that, faced with the most dangerous economic crisis in the history of the United States, there was no overarching philosophical goal. The strategies employed were reactions to the events of the time, but the philosophical goal seems to have been missing.
This is an interesting observation because there has been much greater clarity from this administration when it comes to health care and foreign policy, for example. There was a goal to establish a healthcare infrastructure that would cover all Americans and the recently passed legislation is certainly moving the country in that direction, perhaps inexorably.
In the area of foreign affairs, the Obama Administration has clearly embraced the goal of establish a more collaborative and less combative foreign policy. Thankfully this country has moved away from unilateral days of Bush-Cheney to a multi-lateral process that preserves American security as well as restoring this country’s battered image abroad.
I think that is why “Confidence Men” is all the more troubling because it is not only the Obama Administration that didn’t have a philosophical goal at a crucial time, the Democratic Party and the progressive community seemed to come up short. The Republican, and now G.O.Tea Party goals, simplistic as they may be, are clear and can be summed up as the 3 M’s – Minimum taxation, Minimal regulation, Maximum profit. It may be that the progressive stance is too nuanced for the hand-to-hand combat that characterizes these days and times.
My final thoughts on “Confidence Men” are that I keep waiting to learn about the absolute Obama loyalists in the rooms where the decision makers decide. Where are the men and women who have his back? Where is his right hand man/woman who demands loyalty and support of the president?
I am once more reminded of the old saying – sometimes it seems like Barack Obama is in a chair fight and everyone has a chair but him. If he ran his campaign the way he has been running his presidency this column would be about President John McCain and Vice President Sarah Palin.
The Obama campaign was historic. The Obama campaign was also coldly efficient, calculating and focused – at all times. It is time to unsheathe those weapons again – and not a moment too soon.