Heading into our Tuesday night Blueprint for Accountability show at Georgetown University (and live at Fora.tv!) we’re looking back at our Radio Free Dylan podcast with author and journalist Ron Suskind.
Ron is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author. Suskind’s latest book, “Confidence Men” is a multi-layered narrative about the fall of the U.S. economy, the rise of Barack Obama, and the President’s harrowing battle to take control of his White House and earn the confidence of the American people. Here’s our interview with him.
This podcast was originally produced in November 2011.
“It’s a crossroads moment in America,” says Ron Suskind. “There’s no doubt about that. And the question is can we exercise informed consent with an emphasis on informed, and do it responsibly? That’s the challenge we face.”
On this episode of Radio Free Dylan, Pulitzer-prize winning author Ron Suskind joins Dylan to discuss in-depth his new book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President. While his book received great attention for being an indictment of the Presidents inability to effectively engage the banking system during the 2008 crisis, it also provides fascinating new insight into the powerful and often competing roles of Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, Eric Holder and other senior administration officials at the height of the crisis.
It is the tale of their decisions behind closed doors, their collective guidance to the President, their unspoken loyalties and, most often, their missteps in dealing with the financial crisis. Understanding these mistakes and their effect on our economy, Ron believes, is a big part of what has led to the Occupy Wall Street protests over the past month.
“You can’t imagine the number of calls I’m getting from folks up on Wall Street right now at the demonstrations in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Literally, every one of them is going page by page saying here, finally, is the evidence,” says Ron.
Suskind points to March of 2009 as a turning point in Obama’s presidency. As he describes it, “Even Summers is on his side about taking down the too big to fail banks starting with Citi. Obama’s ready to go, he says, “I want to plan for how this will work. We’ll use $200 billion in the TARP fund… at the beginning, “we’ll do that first, we’ll go back to Congress for money to do the whole system right.” Tim Geithner basically says to himself and in the meeting, “the President doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he doesn’t understand this.” Geithner slow-walks him. A month later, nothing has been done even after the President ordered a lay-down, a plan, a real plan, only Treasury could write up that plan for how to do it. Obama at that moment gets the wind knocked out of him. And after that, you can see him just adrift,” says Suskind.
Obama’s need for consensus, Suskind believes, is what got the president stuck in neutral when he should have been pulling ahead full throttle. “All the advisers in the room, they all have high IQs, they’ve got sterling credentials, let’s see if I can get them to agree. They don’t agree, and because they don’t agree, Obama doesn’t have the confidence to move. That’s the bottom line of what happened for must of the first two years of this presidency.”
As to why there have been no prosecutions in the financial crisis, Suskind says that it’s due to lack of direction from the top down. “They’ve managed to skirt the letter of the law, you move on a racketeering front we’ve done with the mob, all the way through the difficult days for the mob over the last three decades. That’s what you do. That’s what prosecutors do. And the reason that it hasn’t happened is because I don’t think there’s forceful opinion and guidance from the top, period,” says Suskind.
“Barack Obama actually wanted to do more things than he ended up doing, whether it’s because he couldn’t muster the confidence to exercise executive power, whether it was Tim and Larry standing in the way, whatever it was, necessity is the mother of invention, he is in a moment that is indisputably one of increasing desperation,” says Suskind.
Suskind concludes that Geithner blocked the plan to resolve Citigroup from being formed. When asked whether he believes Geither is currently blocking a resolution plan for Bank of America, Suskind believes he is. “Looking at Tim’s behavior over the last almost three years, frankly take the New York fed four or five years, absolutely. I think that would contort with his views and his behavior up to now. Geithner does not believe that the country can survive without these large banks,” says Suskind.
Suskind also lays out the best-case scenario for the President at this point in 2011, and heading into 2012. “He has a long-shot personality, he’s at his best when odds are longest. This may be a moment, if there is a moment where he goes back to the closet, dusts off things he wanted to do to be essentially the President he was elected to be, and he may roll them out now with so little to lose. Frankly, what’s he got to lose at this point? He’s not getting Wall Street’s money anyway; they’re all going to Republicans, and many of these things might not even get passed, but at least he has to be true to his oath, “this is what I believe,” that could change the conversation, at least change the conversation in the next couple of months.
– Meg Robertson is a digital producer for DylanRatigan.com.