The O’ Neill Death Watch, Part 2


Life isn’t getting any easier for Paul O’Neill, who on Sept. 11 abruptly replaced Donald Rumsfeld as the Cabinet secretary most likely to jump or be pushed from the Bush administration. The Oct. 19 Wall Street Journal’s “Washington Wire” column absolutely hammers the poor guy. First it blames O’Neill for muddying Bush’s message about whether the White House will support the House Republicans’ spendthrift tax bill. O’Neill is quoted calling that bill “more than we’d like” and referring to the House Ways and Means committee’s drafting session as “show business for lobbyists.” This line is at odds with that of White House National Economic Council chief Lawrence Lindsey, who says that “I don’t think the bill is a problem.” Even though O’Neill is being fiscally responsible, while Lindsey is pandering to the GOP’s right wing, it’s Lindsey who calls the shots, so by Washington’s cruel logic O’Neill is the loser. The Journal’s “Wire” column further rubs it in by pointing out that O’Neill’s predecessor, Robert Rubin, was asked by Chinese officials to introduce Dubya at a dinner at the trade summit in Shanghai. For O’Neill, Rubin (who keeps getting called up to Capitol Hill to explain the U.S. economy) is like Rebecca, the beloved late wife in the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name–a paragon against whom the jittery second Mrs. DeWinter (played by Joan Fontaine) will never measure up. In Rebecca Joan Fontaine ultimately prevails, but that’s just the movies. For good measure, the “Wire” observes that the National Review is calling for O’Neill’s resignation. O’Neill, National Review says, is “manifestly unsuited for the job,” a man whose “most notable effect on the markets has been to roil them with ill-considered remarks about the dollar.” Oh dear.