Transcript: Thom Hartmann & Ron Suskind: "Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President". October 20, 2011

Thom Hartmann: Welcome back to the second hour of our program, Thom Hartmann here with you. And Ron Suskind is on the line with us. He is the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, author of a number of books. His most recent, “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President." His website, RonSuskind.com. Ron, welcome to the program.

Ron Suskind: It’s great to be here. How are you Thom?

Thom Hartmann: I’m fine and thank you for joining us. I’m curious from, your book has been widely covered. And I think a lot of people are very familiar with the more obvious questions. Although some of them are probably worth revisiting. But the one thing that I haven’t heard, or maybe I’ve just missed, and it’s probably calling more for opinion on your part, is if, just to set this up...

You wrote this book, you interviewed the president, you interviewed all these people around him. If he, you know, he’s been changing his tune a lot lately with regard to becoming far more populist. If he’s reelected, will we see a different, you know you, talk about Team A and Team B in the book, basically. Will we see a change in economic advisory teams and a fundamental change in an economic approach? Are we going to see him become more like FDR? Or, in your opinion, is what we’re seeing right now, this populist rhetoric, just the stuff that has to be done to get reelected?

Ron Suskind: You know, it’s, that’s the $64,000 question Thom. You know, is this just political convenience, him now being more activist, more populist or does he actually believe now that he missed his big opportunity, as I talk about, in early 2009, he’s there a few months, he could have restructured Wall Street. Frankly democrats and republicans both wanted him to do it but the tea party, you know, was at that point a, you know, the energy that created it was rising up. You know, can he get that back now? He may have lost his historical moment, at least short of another crisis providing it again. And the question now is, is this just a sound and fury signifying very little other than a 'how do I get reelected' or has he changed?

My sense from our conversations was that if I had to bet I would say he feels a lot of regret about not being Roosevelt when he had the shot. If he gets a shot again I think he will try to be and if he gets reelected I think that will be something that will be right first off the tarmac.

Thom Hartmann: In fact it seems to me, given the times, he almost has no choice. That the parade has gotten so big, he’s got to get out in front of it.

Ron Suskind: Yeah in a way. You’re right on the money, you’re right on the money. I mean look, the fact is that it’s in a way, a matter now of increasing national mandate. And that’s what interesting. You talk about the Occupy Wall Street movement, you talk about the tea party. The energy creating both these things as I think you’ve pointed out Thom is you know, very similar. It’s coming from the same American landscape where people are troubled. And they kind of get it now. It took a little while to say you know this financial capital of New York and that financial system is not working on behalf of either American business or Main Street. They are sort of members of some wider global economy and in fact they’re advancing, accelerating and exacerbating many of the things that have troubled and burdened America in this period. You know, Obama…

Thom Hartmann: It’s populist rage, basically.

Ron Suskind: Some republicans say look if he had done it in the spring of 2009 we would be facing a very strong president now that none of us on the republican side could beat. He didn’t do it and he may not get reelected because of it.

Thom Hartmann: Right. And in fact probably he wouldn’t have lost congress in 2010 either. But, you know, that’s all in the past. And in fact, speaking of the past, and juxtaposing it with the present, if you don’t mind my going back to another one of your books.

Ron Suskind: Yeah.

Thom Hartmann: You wrote “Way of the World," right?

Ron Suskind: Yeah, of course.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah okay, I just, I’m pulling this one…

Ron Suskind: There are three books on the Bush era.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah I’m pulling this one entirely out of memory, so correct me if I have anything wrong on this. But my, you know, Moammar Gaddafi was, today, confirmed to be dead. And we’re seeing this incredible destabilization of the Middle East that it seems there were kind of two origins to. The first being Bush’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the second arguably being President Obama going over to Egypt and standing there on the platform next to the dictator and saying to the people you shouldn’t have to put up with dictators. And I credit that as being one of the sparks of the Arab spring. You point out in "Way of the World", and please correct me if I’m wrong, how Bush destabilized the Middle East, basically based on lies, and how Condi Rice was trying to protect Benazir Bhutto who could have been a real change-agent in Pakistan. And protect her from assassination and Dick Cheney shot that down, you know, no US protection services, no US whatever to help Benazir Bhutto and of course she got assassinated. A, is that right? And B do you see a tie in between those events and what’s happening now and if so what is it?

Ron Suskind: Well it’s interesting. You know, Bhutto, I think I do the last interview of a major journalist, certainly, with Bhutto just ten days before she dies in Quetta, which is a troubled city in the western part of Pakistan. And Bhutto, you know, basically opens up and she says why won’t they protect me? Dick Cheney clearly has abandoned me. Condi, others, said you know, look, I’ve grown. Bhutto was, she’s no choir girl, she’s corrupt down to her socks but she understood the power of democracy and in that part of the world became its vessel. And ultimately Cheney’s view was that we would rather work with a dictator, Musharaff, than with these sort of uncontrollable issues of democratic growth and self determination of peoples in that region. That was the Bush way. And ultimately I think Obama, certainly that Cairo speech was just extraordinary and it’s in my book, in the current book. You know Obama has set a new tone. The question is will it express itself in policies, in strategies, that allow forward motion as opposed to destabilization that maybe could turn in the wrong direction. And again, that’s part of this problem that this administration has had. Certainly domestically more, but even in foreign affairs, in terms of best ideas and then real execution in terms of follow through, in terms of getting to where they need to be. And right now it’s a very volatile situation over there. And it’s one though that creates opportunity, obviously. And the opportunity is hopefully what we expect our leaders to seize upon.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Well there’s this famous concept, I’m forgetting the guy who came up with the name of it, it was back you know, I don’t know, 50, 60 years ago, the J-curve. That when a, when a country, a non-democratic country is overthrown or collapses or has a coup or whatever it may be, in, and starts moving in a more democratic direction, it goes from a point of stability, like a J on it’s side, okay at the bottom of the J, it goes rapidly downward in terms of stability and then it hits some point where it goes in one of two directions. Either it goes to autocracy and becomes stable again or it slides up the J and into democracy and becomes stable again. But in either case, stability returns. And we’re watching that played out in the Middle East. And to some extent that’s being influenced by our policies in the Middle East. I’m curious your thoughts on how President Obama and the people in his administration are dealing with that, in the minute we have left, here, Ron Suskind.

Ron Suskind: Yeah, it’s very quick, Thom, and from a key Washington handler says, Obama creates a space, this is what he said at the beginning of his presidency. He creates a space where solutions can happen by his presence, by his openness, by the whole Obama aura. That’s what he does at the start. He’s done that some ways in the world. The problem is, is Obama has not figured out a way to own that space he’s created. Other people have jumped in, all sorts of complications and devils in the mix. And Obama still struggles with owning the space, the space that he has created, both domestically and internationally and he needs to own that space now when it comes to building these democracies. He needs to engage. He can’t just let events unfold as he’s done in most domestic policies and say I’ll get to it later, once it sort of coalesces. That doesn’t work in foreign affairs. I think that’s the real question.

Thom Hartmann: Do you see him moving in that direction? Of owning that space?

Ron Suskind: I don’t know. I don’t see much evidence of it on some of the foreign terrain. Domestically, obviously the book is about Obama defaulting on many of these issues of leadership, and frankly is being bought by both the left and the right. Because it’s the first real glimpse we’re going to get, and maybe we’ll get before the election, as to what’s really gone on in terms of this country and how it’s been led. You know, obviously I did do an awful lot to dig up these disclosures, they’re all taped interviews.

Thom Hartmann: You did and…

Ron Suskind: You will meet these characters as though you have never met some of them before.

Thom Hartmann: It’s brilliant. It’s a brilliant book. “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President." Ron Suskind. Thank you Ron.

Ron Suskind: My pleasure, Thom.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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