Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind's new book on the Obama White House — Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President — won't hit bookstore shelves until Tuesday, but it's already causing a stir. Suskind conducted 746 hours of interviews with some 200 people, including a 50-minute sitdown with Obama himself, and the result is a "gossipy" expose that paints the picture of a severely dysfunctional White House. Obama's communications team has aggressively countered Suskind's account, saying he drew "salacious details" from sketchy and anonymous sources to make "normal day-to-day" governing seem like "palace intrigue." Here, three of the most controversial nuggets unearthed from the book so far:
1. Obama was overruled by his own advisors
According to Suskind, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and former top economic adviser Larry Summers steamrolled a weak Obama, and pursued their own pro-Wall Street agenda, ignoring Obama's wishes, says Adam Moss at New York. Suskind quotes Summers telling then-budget director Peter Orszag that, when it comes to economic policy, "There's no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes." Summers says Suskind's version of events "is a combination of fiction, distortion, and words taken out of context." That sounds about right, says Blue Texan at Firedoglake. "Because the seeds of the Great Recession were planted while Clinton was 'the adult in charge' — at the urging of none other than Larry Summers."
2. Obama's White House was "hostile" to women
Suskind quotes former communications director Anita Dunn saying that the White House fit the "classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace for women." According to the book, Christina Romer, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, once said she "felt like a piece of meat" after Summers excluded her from a meeting. Romer denies it. And Dunn says she told Suskind "point-blank" there was no hostile environment in the White House.
3. Obama compared himself to Jimmy Carter
At one point in his interview with Obama, Suskind got the president to talk about his mistakes in office. "I think one of the criticisms that is absolutely legitimate about my first two years was that I was very comfortable with a technocratic approach to government … a series of problems to be solved," Obama says. "Carter, Clinton and I all have sort of the disease of being policy wonks. … I think that if you get too consumed with that you lose sight of the larger issue." That comparison was a "history-sized mistake," says journalist Jon Meacham, as quoted by Politico. "For 30 years, fairly or no, 'Carter' has been political and cultural shorthand for an ineffectual and uninspiring president who is captive to, rather than captain of, events. To compare oneself to President Carter is kind of like Nixon evoking Harding."