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TYRRELL: The book on Obama
New account of life inside White House vindicates critics’ appraisal
Supposedly, this White House has just made a furious attempt to sink a book, “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President” by Ron Suskind, which came out Sept. 20. Jay Carney, the White House spinmeister, spoke ill of it. Numerous former White House staffers spoke ill of it. Mr. Carney said “one passage seems to be lifted almost entirely from Wikipedia.” Why would a respected writer want to do that? I suspect that the White House is going to be as effective in sinking Mr. Suskind as it has been in keeping President Obama’s poll numbers lofty.
The book tells us what we Obama critics have all been saying since early on. This president is the most incompetent and ideologically rigid president in American history. For my part, I began the refrain in July 2009 with a comparison to Andrew Johnson, who at least had the excuse that he was drunk most of the time that he was in the White House. I continued it in August 2010 when I complimented Jimmy Carter by saying he was no longer the worst president of modern times (a compliment that has as yet gone unacknowledged, I might add). And I have continued with monotonous regularity, hazarding the prospect of becoming a bore. Yet I suppose one is never a bore when one calls a liberal hansdoodle a hansdoodle even when he sits in the White House and has been called all manner of genius by our liberal intelligentsia. Remember when the “historian” Michael Beschloss said Mr. Obama’s “IQ is off the charts”? There will come a day when Mr. Beschloss explains that he was saying Mr. Obama registered “off the charts” at the opposite end of genius.
How are all the liberal sages going to get out of their absurd exaggerations of Mr. Obama’s modest gifts? Increasingly, they admit that Mr. Obama has chosen the wrong policies, but he speaks so beautifully - using a teleprompter for the most measly address. Ah, but he is so forceful. So is his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, when he dons his tutu. But he is curious, adventurous, a sponge for new ideas. Actually, he has been a hopeless socialist, lost in Fabian abstractions.
Most of this becomes clear as you lug yourself through Mr. Suskind’s tome. Skip the first 150 pages. The author needs an editor. Settle with Mr. Suskind’s discussion of the fights between the boys and the girls on the White House staff and Mr. Obama’s insensitive meeting with the aggrieved ladies at a dinner he held to placate them. One, a notably dumpy economist with all the sex appeal of Paul Krugman, complains, “I felt like a piece of meat.” She has the catchphrase wrong, of course, unless she was wearing a bikini. Yet it tells you how confused the Democratic feminists have become, even the economists.
Move on to Mr. Suskind’s first quote from economist Larry Summers, complaining to economist Peter Orszag, “We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge.” Settle on Page 365, where the speculations of us Obama critics are pretty much vindicated. There is Mr. Obama’s inability to make a decision, his “drift,” his “loss of interest.” Referring to Mr. Summers once again, Mr. Orszag is quoted as telling Mr. Suskind, “Larry would say [to Mr. Obama], ‘I’ll make my argument first; you can go after me.’ ” Mr. Orszag then recalls something Mr. Suskind was to hear from countless others: “I’m thinking, ‘I can’t believe he’s talking to the president that way.’ I just don’t know why Obama didn’t say, ‘I made that decision a week ago. Just do what I say.’ ” Well, Mr. Obama probably did not make that decision a week ago. In another meeting, after “a dozen arguments,” Mr. Suskind writes, “Obama, in a voice that was softly dispirited, said, ‘Well, if you guys can’t agree, I mean, we don’t have to do it.’ ” As I say, this is from one page. The book continues and makes very painful reading even for me in all my vindication.
Mr. Suskind contains his narrative to Mr. Obama’s economic policy and, to a lesser degree, health care. There is nothing in the book about foreign policy or the way this president has conducted two foreign wars and a worldwide effort against terrorism. My agents tell me Mr. Obama’s conduct of foreign affairs and of the war on terror are even more appalling.
Somewhere in the deadly proceedings, Mr. Suskind calls in one of the president’s still-happy servitors, David Axelrod, who still can sing of Mr. Obama’s “broad intellectual curiosity. He just fluidly moves from one thing to another.” Ah, note those fluid moves, and Mr. Axelrod assures us that “Obama will be one of history’s seminal presidents.” I suppose that is true if our history is to include national decline. I, however, see a better future.
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. He is author of “After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Recovery” (Thomas Nelson, 2010).
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