Memo to Paul O’Neill: It’s over, baby! The only question now is whether you’ll leave looking like a loser or looking like a maverick who’s too principled to make it in Republican politics. The latter would make O’Neill a hero to liberals, to the press, and to the sort of moderate, fiscally conservative Republican one tends to encounter in upper management at most Fortune 500 companies. As usual, though, O’Neill is blowing it. (Click here and here for earlier installments.)
Roll Call’s John Bresnahan reported yesterday that on Halloween O’Neill had a scary meeting with a group of irate House GOP conservatives. Paul, they said, you’re killin’ us with all this talk about how the stimulus bill is a giveaway to special interests! If O’Neill had any backbone (or, failing that, a shrewder cynicism about how to make himself look good), he would have answered that the damn bill was a giveaway to special interests, and that if they didn’t like it, they could lump it, because the U.S. Treasury secretary couldn’t be bought. Instead, O’Neill told the irate conservatives that he’d been misquoted. Big mistake. Rep. John Shadegg was ready to quote chapter and verse from remarks O’Neill had made the week before to the House Financial Services Committee, thereby making O’Neill look, on top of everything else, like a weasel.
Things aren’t much better for O’Neill on the Senate side. According to the Washington Post’s Al Kamen, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said yesterday at a news conference, “We've recommended privately—and somewhat on occasion publicly—that [O’Neill] be a little bit more discreet in the way he chooses his words.” Asked if O’Neill should get the boot, Lott said, “That's the president's decision. I think he has a lot to offer but I do think he needs to be careful with how he says what he believes ... a little more discretion would be the better part of valor.” Chatterbox’s advice to O’Neill: Don’t listen to Lott. You’ve already blown your chance to remain Treasury secretary. Now you should focus on being remembered as a truth-telling martyr. And you won’t get there by keeping your mouth shut.