In early 2009 I wondered why Obama didn’t push more aggressively on the monetary policy front. In one postI suggested he talk to Christina Romer, who knew how effective it was in the Great Depression. Later I speculated that Larry Summers may have blocked access to the President, or perhaps was dismissive of her arguments. Summers has made it very clear that he doesn’t think monetary policy has a role to play in this recovery.
Now we don’t have to speculate any longer. From the WaPo:
A new book claims that the Obama White House is a boys’ club marred by rampant infighting that has hindered the administration’s economic policy and left top female advisers feeling excluded from key conversations.
“Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” by journalist Ron Suskind due out next Tuesday, details the rivalries among Obama’s top economic advisers, Larry Summers, former chairman of the National Economic Council, and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. It describes constant second-guessing by Summers, now at Harvard, who was seen by others as “imperious and heavy-handed” in his decision-making.
In an excerpt obtained by The Post, a female senior aide to President Obama called the White House a hostile environment for women.
“This place would be in court for a hostile workplace,” former White House communications director Anita Dunn is quoted as saying. “Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.”
Dunn declined to discuss the specifics of the book. But in an interview Friday she said she told Suskind “point blank” that the White House “was not a hostile environment.”
“The president is someone who when he goes home at night he goes home to house full of very strong women,” Dunn added. “He values having strong women around him.”
The book, due out next week, reveals a White House that at times was divided and dysfunctional.
It says that women occupied many of the West Wing’s senior positions, but felt outgunned and outmaneuvered by male colleagues such as former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Summers.
“I felt like a piece of meat,” Christina Romer, former head of the Council of Economic Advisers, said of one meeting in which Suskind writes she was “boxed out” by Summers.
Larry Summers? Disrespectful to women? I thought he was supposed to be disrespectful to everyone.
But seriously, this did surprise me a bit:
“The president has a real woman problem,” an unnamed high-ranking female official told Suskind. “ The idea of the boys’ club being just Larry and Rahm isn’t really fair. He [Obama] was just as responsible himself.”
Based on interviews with more than 200 people inside and outside the White House, Suskind’s book comes as Obama faces the lowest poll numbers of his tenure, and deep discontent over his economic policies.
According to the book, female staffers, like Dunn and Romer, felt sidelined. In November 2009, female aides complained to the president about being left out of meetings, or ignored.
Dunn said in the interview that her husband, now-White House lawyer Bob Bauer, was “surprised to see me as someone who could be talked over in meetings.”
“It’s a place where there is vigorous discussion back and forth. At various times people have issues with their colleagues, but we were united,” Dunn said. “I’ve been very clear that this is a president who values a diverse set of voices on every issue.”
Dunn refused to discuss the details of “private conversations with the president,” dinners with the economic team or conversations with book authors.
But she added: “I take issue with the idea that [the White House] was a place where senior women weren’t involved in every aspect of every major decision and their voices weren’t heard.”
Obama, according to the book published by Harper Collins, failed to call on Romer after asking her male colleagues for their opinions. The snub prompted Romer to pass a note to Summers where she threatened to walk out of the dinner, according to the book.
It seems increasingly clear that Obama doesn’t have a good understanding of economics. He approaches issues like a very bright non-economist using his common sense. Since common sense suggests that supply-side factors aren’t very important, and monetary policy only works through interest rates, he can’t envision any economic solutions beyond demand-side fiscal stimulus. It’s up to his economic advisers to set him straight, and it seems he listened to the wrong adviser. Romer would have told him to pay attention to monetary policy and cut employer-side payroll taxes.
If Obama had moved earlier and more aggressively his appointees would by now completely dominate the Board of Governors. His failure to do so might well cost him a second term.
PS. I’m in no position to judge the accuracy of this book. Obama has appointed several women to the Supreme Court and Hillary Clinton seems to have an important role.