Book: There Was No 'Adult in Charge' at Obama White House? Hostile Workplace for Women?

When author Ron Suskind was writing books harshly critical of the Bush White House, he was invited to many major-media salons to discuss how dysfunctional the Bushies were. Now Suskind has turned that around on Team Obama. Will the media coverage be different?

The Washington Post reports that Suskind finds the Obama White House was not a good place for women, and had major discord on the economic team. The Obama people interviewed for the book are now denouncing the final product:

Anita Dunn, a former communications director, is quoted as saying that “looking back, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace. . . . Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace for women.”

Dunn said Friday that she told Suskind “point-blank” that the White House “was not a hostile environment.”

Christina Romer, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, is quoted as saying, after being excluded by top economic adviser Lawrence H. Summers at a meeting, “I felt like a piece of meat.”

On Friday, Romer said, “I can’t imagine that I ever said this.”

The book says Romer shared her thoughts with Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren, then a candidate to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Why is it always the women?” Romer asked. “Why are we the only ones with the balls around here?”

“I was told before I went to Washington that there has always been a lot of testosterone in the West Wing,” Romer said Friday. “What was different in the Obama administration is that there were so many women in important positions and, when problems arose, the president worked hard to fix them. I felt respected, included and useful to the team.”

The Post added:

The book portrays discord within the economic team, with Summers, then director of the National Economic Council, attempting to shut out the views of Romer and then-budget director Peter Orszag.

According to the book, Summers sought to derail Obama’s push on several policies, including a financial transactions tax.

At one point, Orszag delivered a private report to the president, at his request, about what might happen if the government did not act to rein in the long-term federal budget deficit. Summers was outraged that Orszag would communicate with the president without going through the National Economic Council.

“What you’ve done is immoral!” Summers shouted.

Orszag told Suskind, according to the book: “Larry just didn’t think the president knew what he was deciding.”

Meeting over dinner at the Bombay Club one night, Summers told Orszag that “we’re really home alone,” according to the book. “I mean it,” Summers said. “We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.”

Suskind asked Summers about the comment. “What I’m happy to say is, the problems were immense, they came from a number of very different sources, they were all coming at once, and there were not very many of us,” Summers replied.

In an e-mail Friday to The Post, Summers, who left the administration last year, said, “The hearsay attributed to me is a combination of fiction, distortion, and words taken out of context. I can’t speak to what others have told Mr. Suskind, but I have always believed that the president has led this country with determined, steady and practical leadership.”

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