It was only a matter of time before the Bush administration contrived to sanction former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill for revealing the secrets of the temple.
But no one should take seriously the attempts by the administration to suggest that O'Neill violated the public trust by revealing details of the machinations of Vice President Dick Cheney, White House political czar Karl Rove and the others who run the Bush presidency.
O'Neill, who was always the most outspoken of the Bush acolytes, was fired late in 2002 after he noted that the emperor's tax-cutting schemes had no clothing of legitimacy. A year later, the man who is well-respected in business and economic circles internationally has started talking about what he saw inside the Bush White House. What O'Neill has to say is more disturbing than surprising. Most Americans have thought for some time that the man who wears the label of "president" is not actually in charge, and that is certainly the impression conveyed by O'Neill in "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill," a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind.
O'Neill discussed his time in the Bush administration at length with Suskind, and provided the journalist with 19,000 documents backing up his statements. Suskind then confirmed the facts with administration insiders and others.
What emerges is the picture of a profoundly disengaged president who led Cabinet meetings "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people," and whose top aides found themselves devising White House policy on "little more than hunches about what the president might think."
Ill-informed and lacking in curiosity, the president is portrayed as a man being manipulated by Cheney and Rove - especially on issues of tax policy. O'Neill tells of a Cabinet meeting where Bush actually asked questions about whether additional tax cuts for the rich really were necessary, only to be admonished by Cheney and Rove to stay on message.
Much is being made of O'Neill's observation that the administration began planning a pre-emptive war against Iraq long before the 2001 terrorist attacks. But this is not that big a revelation. The Bush administration's determination to invade Iraq was evident to anyone who bothered to pay attention.
Far more shocking are the revelations regarding the casual manner in which administration insiders dismissed economic common sense. O'Neill makes it painfully clear that the president and his aides had little interest in any economic policy that did not begin - and pretty much end - with a combination of hefty tax cuts for the rich and the relaxation of basic regulations on corporations. O'Neill recognized early on that the administration was forging disastrous policies that would create deep deficits while failing to address fundamental issues.
Now, with deficits rising and job growth stagnant, it's obvious that O'Neill was right. That is, of course, an inconvenient reality as the president prepares to deliver an election-year State of the Union address that undoubtedly will paint a rosy picture of the nation's economic morass.
So Bush aides, and their allies in the media, are battering O'Neill. Officials at the Treasury Department have even asked for a probe into O'Neill's possible misuse of documents that may have been classified. What they have not done is make a credible case that anything O'Neill has said is untrue.
Paul O'Neill took a risk in telling the truth. The Bush administration has a track record of seeking to destroy those who reveal how it really operates.
But this time it is unlikely to work. The American people have a taste for the truth. CNN asked viewers whether O'Neill was right to come forward with his revelations about the inner workings of the administration. Ninety-three percent of those who responded said yes.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times