Quite naturally, no such disapproval occurred when Suskind had earlier slammed the Bush administration. Back then he was celebrated for revealing the negative truth about a hated enemy. Disparaging of a friend, however, that was unforgivable.
And make no mistake; Suskind is an ardent liberal. Time and again, he off-handedly insults Bush, Cheney and Republicans in general. At no point in his work does he ever give them credit for good ideas. The best he can muster is that they occasionally cooperate with his hero.
Just how partisan Suskind is is highlighted by the praise lavished on Paul Volcker. When Volcker was running the Federal Reserve three decades ago, he did the nation a great service by implementing monetary polices that saved us from the Carter inflation. For this courageous and successful effort he does indeed deserve credit.
But there was another person at the table, one that in Suskind’s left-wing universe remains invisible. That person, of course, was Ronald Reagan. Without Reagan’s encouragement and political support, Volcker could not have done what he did. It was, after all, Reagan who took the political flack when Volcker’s medicine resulted in an economic downturn.
So what is the point of this digression? It is to show how reluctant Suskind must have been to divulge information damaging to Obama’s image. Suskind clearly loves what Obama stands for, but is disappointed in the weaknesses he discovered behind the self-congratulatory curtain of secrecy surrounding him.
This, however, makes his revelations all the more credible. It also makes them that much more frightening.
For my money, the worst of the surprises is how hands-off President Obama has been. The man loves to give speeches that inspire us to greatness, but he does not have a solid vision of how to get there. For that, he has relied on other people. As a result, much of his policy was crafted in Congress and the Treasury, not the While House.
Under his roof, the president has largely presided over a debating society. Important plans are constantly discussed and in Obama’s words “relitigated.” Moreover, one of the people most involved with this process was Larry Summers, the president’s former chief economic adviser.
Suskind makes it clear that Summers was a pompous manipulator with an inflated sense of self-importance. Nevertheless, Summers’ judgment of the president is instructive. He is quoted as telling another Obama aide that, “We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.”
In other words, the president was forever kicking the can down the road. Although in public he strives to look decisive, behind the scenes he has had difficulty making decisions. Unless all of his advisers agree, which they rarely do, he wants to continue discussing matters.
And even in the end game, he tends to split the baby. Despite repeated assertions of wanting bold solutions, his actual preference is for compromise — that is, within the left-wing spectrum. Clearly, what conservatives want does not count. It never comes up in the conversations Suskind reports.
All of this puts a new light on Barack’s posturing as the “adult in the room” during the negotiations about increasing the nation’s debt limit. Here too the reality was an inability to make a decision and stick to it. When Boehner complained that Obama moved the goal posts, that is evidently what happened.
Needless to say, this is how kids play. They, too, are hesitant to take responsibility and like to blame others. Doesn’t this sound familiar? Aren’t we seeing it once again in the president’s reelection campaign? Isn’t this enterprise also based on inspirational policies that have no real substance?
Melvyn L. Fein. Ph.D. is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.