BOOK: The Man Who Wasn’t There


[Illustration by EDDIE GUY]

NEW YORK TIMES: Why have so many people in the Obama administration vented to Mr. Suskind in the first place, when the president was only partway through his first term? Like many of Bob Woodward’s sources a lot of them are motivated by spin, score settling and second-guessing. Given the stalled economy and the president’s sliding poll numbers, some former staff members are playing the blame game early, while others seem to be hoping to goad the president into a reboot and a more aggressive stance before the 2012 election. Mr. Suskind — a Pulitzer Prize winner and former reporter at The Wall Street Journal — has a flair for taking material he’s harvested to create narratives with a novelistic sense of drama. With Mr. Obama, who is depicted here as having lost the thread of his own story line, Mr. Suskind supplies a story line of his own: that of “a brilliant amateur” whose early tenure in office was marked by drift, hesitancy and an inability “to translate his will into policy on the occasions when he could decide on a coherent path.” Mr. Obama emerges in this volume as an oddly passive chief executive whose modus operandi was to sketch out overarching principles, “wait until others had painted in those outlines with hard proposals” and then “step down from his above-the-fray perch to close the deal.” In “Confidence Men” Mr. Suskind suggests that this approach ceded oversight of the hard details of policy to others (Congress in the case of health care; the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, and his deputies in the case of fiscal reform), leading to a loss of control and momentum. MORE

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