Among the charges leveled most frequently during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential bid was that, having been a U.S. senator just two years and a state lawmaker and law professor before that, he lacked the executive experience and management skills to lead the most powerful country on Earth. Ron Suskind, the controversial author whose insider accounts of past administrations have drawn bipartisan criticism, seems to jump on that bandwagon, albeit with caveats, in his new book, “Confidence Men.”
“He was a brilliant amateur,” Suskind said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday. “He comes into the most toxic crisis environment you could manage with no managerial experience and he has around him seasoned long-term Washington mandarins.”
Suskind says Obama struggled to steer the bureaucracy to adhere to his wishes and that his subordinates, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, intentionally dithered in carrying out some of his policies.
“[Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner clearly slow-walked as the president, meaning that he did not move as the president hoped he would, some would say he ignored the president,” Suskind said, citing an interview where the president admitted that “the bureaucracy didn’t do what I wanted it to do.”
Suskind is referring to a March 2009 directive where the president ordered Geithner to consider dissolving Citigroup, the bailed-out bank of which the Federal government had taken a majority stake.
“The Citbank incident, and others like it, reflected a more pernicious and personal dilemma emerging from inside the administration: that the young president’s authority was being systematically undermined or hedged by his seasoned advisers,” Suskind wrote.
Geithner, for his part, disputed this account on Monday.
“I would never do that. I have spent my life in public service. It’s my great privilege to serve this president, and I would never contemplate doing that,” he said, adding he had not read the book. “But, again, I lived the original, and the reality I lived, we all lived together, bears no relation to the sad little stories I heard reported from that book.”
The treasury secretary is not the only one to hint that Suskind’s credibility may be less-than-pristine. Republican strategist and former Bush White House official Karl Rove, who would seem to have no incentive to defend the president from an unflattering account, nonetheless said on Fox News earlier this week that “I’m not certain how much of this book is true and accurate. My personal experience with him [Suskind] is that he tends to exaggerate.”
The author stands firm by his book, calling his reporting “solid as a brick.”
“Everyone was confronted with the key evidence that’s in the book prior to publication. I went to every one of the major characters, including Tim Geithner. They respond in the pages of the book,” he said. “When you get to the political environment, the White House says, ‘Just say you were on Venus that day, temporarily insane.'”