Clay's Reviews > Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President

Confidence Men by Ron Suskind
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's review
Nov 14, 2011

really liked it

This blow by blow account of Obama's presidential education is a zinger. The early insights on the coming meltdown from UBS head and fundraiser Wolf prepared Obama well for the September showdown with McCain. In a 2007 meeting with economic advisors, Obama decided that building infrastructure was the way to get unemployed men to work (there were lots of jobs in services like helping seniors, but it wasn't "man's work"). Obama decided to go with Team B economists (led by Summers, Geithner) and their "do no harm" philosophy (i.e. to wall street), rather than Team A economists (Volker et al) who wanted to make waves. Obama's decision for Treasury to take Citibank down to be restructured Swedish style, was undermined by his Treasury Secretary's inaction because he never believed in his bosses plan. The book could have been condensed, since it goes over at great length much discussed ground over the recent history in the financial markets; but that's a minor quibble. Despite the disappointments, much of what Obama has done may have worked (look at Europe for a comparator), though it's too early to really know. When Suskind was writing this book, one day in the basement cafe of Politics and Prose Bookstore in DC, someone told him that Jimmy Carter was upstairs signing books. Suskind asked him what he thought about Presidents inspiring confidence. Carter said that he didn't understand the importance of it the way Reagan did; that's why Reagan beat him. Carter thought Obama understood. This book suggests it's been a long learning process. Obama started confident, and people were confident in him. But by the end of his second year in office, he speaks enviously to Suskind of how Reagan was a master at using symbols and gestures, and that these mattered just as much as ideas in building confidence, the coin of the realm.

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