Books: Obama, a campaigner, learning to lead

Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:36pm EDT
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By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - "The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job-training," Vice-President Joe Biden famously quipped of his future running mate in 2007.

That's exactly what President Barack Obama did in his first two years of office, according to a controversial new book by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind.

"Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and The Education Of A President" portrays an inexperienced president struggling to manage an administration dominated by out-sized male egos frazzled by epic economic challenges: stabilizing giant banks and a dilapidated auto industry, reforming Wall Street and pushing for health care.

Often, Suskind says, key lieutenants like National Economic Council head Larry Summers and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner either ignored or delayed Obama's decisions.

The story of a conflicted administration comes at a sensitive moment for Obama as he keeps grappling with a stagnant economy, an increasingly depressed public and Republican presidential candidates filling the air waves with noisy doubts about Obama's ability to lead.

Political pundits, meanwhile, have relished the juicy score-settling the book offers, while a few of its subjects have accused Suskind of mischaracterizing or outright misquoting them.

The heart of the nearly 500-page book is Obama's economic team led by Summers, portrayed as an imperious, tantrum-prone diva who demanded a car with a driver like Geithner and a round of golf with the president when Obama decided to keep Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chairman instead of appointing Summers.

As the administration struggles to stabilize the economy, Summers leads economic meetings that devolve into aimless "debate societies," a sort of West Wing "Waiting For Godot" in which critical questions are debated to death but consensus is rarely reached, let alone policies unified.   Continued...

<p>President Barack Obama greets locals after buying ice cream at DeWitt Dairy Treats in DeWitt, Iowa, August 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed</p>