The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill by Ron Suskind

The Chairman of a major American Corporation is the equivalent of a very wealthy Prince in centuries past. They literally sit at the top of a pyramid with potentially a 100,000 to 200,000 or more workers underneath them. If they priced their compensation agreements appropriately, with stock options they can make $100 million or more per year. In addition, you have every imaginable benefit available to you, including private $50 million jets with full time crew plus the stewardesses.

You have mansions, and subordinates that care of every need. You don’t know what a drycleaner or supermarket looks like. Every whim, every concern is lifted from your shoulders. All you have to do is create a bottom line for the company, and the Board of Directors will leave you alone. If you are smart enough over the years, you will even be able to put your own people on the Board to make your world even easier, more secure.


Why would anyone want to walk away from this kind of wealth and power to take a job in the government? Each person must find his own answer, but Paul O’Neill did just that. He gave it all up as Chairman of Alcoa to serve his President, as Secretary of the Treasury, and what happened? The President, the Vice-President, and all the want-to-bees around them treated O’Neill with DISDAIN, and this is why the title of the book is the “Price of Loyalty.”

O’Neill makes clear his belief that President Bush was NOT OPEN to listening to ideas that disagreed with his preconceived notions. One of the things I found absolutely compelling about O’Neil is the discussion of economic policy with his friend, Alan Greenspan.

The former Federal Reserve Chairman and O’Neil served President Bush simultaneously. The discussions in the book between the two men are fabulous, and a delight to read. They demonstrate two magnificent minds fascinated by the intricacies of the interplay between America’s economy, and that of the world.

O’Neil makes much of the discussions he attempted to have with the President of the United States on economic policy. According to O’Neil, Bush sat there, stone deaf silent, as though he wasn’t even listening. O’Neill wonders, “Had the President already made up his mind”, or perhaps had he not even understood what O’Neill was saying? We will never know the truth.

Paul O’Neil lays out for Dick Cheney what is exactly wrong with government economic policy under George W. Bush, and this is what you must do to change it. There is no question that Cheney gets the point. Cheney completely disregards what O’Neil has to say, and feels that the only thing that matters are tax cuts. Remember it was Dick Cheney who recommended O’Neil as Treasury Secretary to President Bush.

Here are a few of the fascinating concepts you pick up by reading this book:

· O’Neil by accepting a Cabinet position, gave up $250 million in Alcoa stock options. His Alcoa income was $25 million the previous year. He gives it up to serve in an Administration that basically disrespected him the day he joined up.

· This one is priceless, and worth reading over and over again. When you are considering buying a company, see how the CEO interacts with the receptionist, the secretary, the guy watering the plants, it will tell you more about the real guy than all the reading and investigations you could ever possibly do.

· Upon entering the White House, O’Neill says to himself, “Who is Karl Rove? I was accustomed to the prevailing view that political people in a White House are, well, political people. There to shape a message, but not at the center of key decisions.”

How revealing, how remarkable an insight. This is why you and me as readers have to read books like this. We need to really understand what is going on? How decisions are made? Who’s driving the decision making process? Was the decision thought out at all? When you read a book like this you understand the tragedy of how the war in Iraq was fought. It makes sense that we are in a quagmire in Iraq 3 years after major ground force operations have ceased.

· He talks about how Christine Whitman, perhaps the second most prestigious member of this Administration being “shafted” by the President. He embarrassed her by allowing the EPA head to say one thing publicly while the President was instituting the opposite policies, and bypassing her.

· Dick Cheney on more than one occasion had referred to Paul O’Neil as the “smartest man in government”.

This a wonderful account of a man who is the REAL THING. An advisor to many Presidents, O’Neil is a man who finally hits the big time with George Bush. He leaves hundreds of millions of dollars on the table to serve his country, and what does he find? O’Neill is surrounded by people with all show, and no substance. They are intellects that are shut down by the limiting beliefs of their own ideology.

Read this book, and you will have a new working knowledge of how a government operates at the top, or maybe it doesn’t? Good luck