Man Without Qualities

Friday, January 16, 2004

Blathering O'Neill

Surprisingly and refreshingly, from Michael Kinsley:

Speaking of blindsided, howzabout that killer quote describing Bush in Cabinet meetings as being "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people"? O'Neill says this is "the only way I can describe it," and I fear that may be the case. It's vivid, and it certainly sounds insulting enough. But what on Earth does it mean? According to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, it means Bush is "disengaged." The Washington Post story began, "President Bush showed little interest in policy discussions in his first two years in the White House, leading Cabinet meetings 'like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people.' …"

I'm sorry, but how is being uninterested in policy like being a blind man in a roomful of deaf people? Are blind people uninterested in policy? Or, more accurately, do blind people become less interested in policy when they find themselves in a room with deaf people? Does a blind man surrounded by deaf people talking policy issues think: "Oh, hell. These folks are going to go on and on and on about the problems of deaf people. Who needs that? I've got problems of my own." Is that O'Neill's point? And even if there is something about a room full of deaf people that makes a blind man disengage from policy issues, what does this have to do with President Bush and his Cabinet?

As described by Paul O'Neill, life inside the Bush administration is like life itself (according to Macbeth): "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." The only solid punch he lands on President Bush is unintentional: What kind of idiot would hire this idiot as secretary of the treasury?

Yes, and that's why this entire O'Neill kerfluffle will mean absolutely nothing in the upcoming election - contrary to the great wishes of Paul Krugman and the like. It's so sad - Herr Doktorprofessor showed so many cards and embarrassed himself so thoroughly, all for nothing. Mr. Kinsley's view of this book rather strongly suggests that he would view Herr Doktorprofessor's take as totally wrong and motivated by partisan looniness. Of course, many of Herr Doktorprofessor's critics have believed that for a long time. But Mr. Kinsley has solidly liberal credentials. The point is that the credentials of the critics just keep getting better.

I particularly like Mr. Kinsley's comment "It's vivid, and it certainly sounds insulting enough. But what on Earth does it mean?" That's the kind of thing currency and securities traders said to each other about God-knows-how-many O'Neill utterances during his tenure. The markets roiled, billions of dollars moved violently and were wasted. Often, as in the Brazilian crisis, some of the most desparate people in the world were placed in greater pain.

And the Treasury Secretary said: "What are people so upset about?"

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