After reading “The Price of Loyalty” by Ron Suskind describing the “Education of Paul O’Neill” while he was Secretary of the Treasury of the United States of America under President George W. Bush, I feel some kinmanship with Mr. O’Neill. I quote from a statement he made at President Clinton’s 1996 education summit “We can know by age nine if a youngster has the ability to become a self-learner. Then don’t let that kid turn 10 without remediation if it’s needed.”
In 2001, in discussing with President Bush the NCLB program, he said, “I like that. But the idea that moves us forward-a real action plan-is ‘One Child at a Time’, an individualized mandate, where children would be constantly assessed in order to create a little strategic plan for each student, a personalized learning strategy to fill gaps and develop latent talent. There is nothing more important than nurturing our human potential as a nation—our future depends on it.” In his book “In Defense of Elitism” William Henry wrote “The big lie about childrearing in Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegeon, is that everyone can be above average.” Inevitably, many students of limited talent spend huge amounts of time and money pursuing some brass ring occupation, only to see their dreams denied. Assess early, guide and offer challenges. Those six words should be at the fore front of every parent-teacher discussion by the kid’s age of 9 or 10. Standardized testing for many kids after that age is a waste of everything. Open the system to “One Child at a Time.” This country offers more opportunity to more good “Indians” than to too many good “Chiefs.” Unfortunately O’Neill hasn’t gotten much further than I have on this subject dear to my heart for many years. Too many kids still drop out of school without a clue, go to college without much of a clue and wonder why they are still seeking a career in which there are too few openings and for which they are not prepared when they are 30 years old.
Suskind quotes from “Beyond Human Scale”, a book by Eli Ginsberg, how we often fail to provide leaders with the honest brokers and the sober analysis these leaders need to make sound decisions. O’Neill feels that all “leaders are best served by honest brokers and presidents (Bush) should not rely on ideologists when they cede significant authority to others. The nature of ideology is to not think things through. Thinking it through is the last thing an ideologue wants to do.” O’Neill continues “I think ideology comes out of feelings and it tends to be non-thinking. Ideology is a lot easier than structured “what do I think and why do I think it”... because you don’t have to know anything or search for anything. You already know the answer to everything. It’s not penetrable by facts. It’s absolutism.”
It was obvious early on that O‘Neill was not going to fit in the Bush administration. He didn’t plan to give in to what he considered the “tyranny of perceptions”; of appearance versus reality. O’Neill says that Richard Nixon, in comparison to Bush, was afraid of hearing an oral presentation because he felt he could be swayed by it, that a strong presentation on only one side of an issue by an expert could cause otherwise sensible people to make bad decisions.
On 2/22/02, Alan Greenspan addressed a collection of the top financial officers in the United States at the Treasury presided over by O’Neill, over the crisis of the bankruptcy of Global Crossing and impending crises at AOL, Tyco and Quest. Greenspan said in a raised voice “There’s been too much gaming of the system until it is broke. Capitalism is not working! There has been a corrupting of the system of capitalism.” Harvey Pitt said “The CEO has an obligation to its investors (stakeholders) to inform them of material information that the CEO knows “investors” would like to know. There can not be conscious avoidance.” Unfortunately some of this gaming goes on and the system of capitalism is still being corrupted by many. Some of the corrupting is and will always be, legal.
When O’Neill got his notice to resign or be fired he said “Even friends in the media were more interested in small conflicts than in what was right or wrong, more interested in the push and shove of personalities rather than the real conflict that was going on within the administration. Politics as it is now played is not about being right. It’s about doing what is necessary to win.” O’Neill with his ability to speak his mind and not be politically correct was probably doomed from day one. Our countries loss but he is now involved in things he wants to do and can get done.
O’Neill felt that Bush demands a standard of loyalty-loyalty to an individual, no matter what. He says “That’s a false kind of loyalty, loyalty to a person and whatever they say or do, that’s the opposite of real loyalty, which is based on inquiry, and telling someone what you really think and feel---your best estimation of the truth instead of what they want to hear.”
Amen to each paragraph and I wish this country had more Paul O’Neill’s and less sometimes clueless leaders. Read the book; it’s an education and Suskind is a great writer.