(WASHINGTON) -- For a White House seeking to regain footing on the economy, this book hurts.
Journalist Ron Suskind, granted extraordinary access to President Obama and his inner circle, has delivered a vicious take on the Obama White House’s economic team in the new book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President.
Suskind depicts rivalries that led to dysfunction and even insubordination in the young months of a new presidency. At the middle of all of it, by Suskind’s account, was a president whose top aides were feuding and bitter as they sought to cope with the worst financial crisis in generations.
“We’re home alone,” Larry Summers, who was director of the White House National Economic Council until last year, is quoted as griping to a colleague, Peter Orszag. “There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.”
The White House is fiercely disputing the accounts of the Suskind book, calling it a combination of half-truths and old news, dramatized for effect. Several of those quoted in the book are already claiming they were misquoted, or had their words taken out of context by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
“It doesn’t sound at all accurate to me,” Jared Bernstein, who served as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief economist until earlier this year, told ABC News. Bernstein was in many of the meetings referenced in the book, and was among the White House aides interviewed by Suskind for the project.
“You put a bunch of economists in a room, you are going to argue and squabble,” Bernstein added. “We have disagreements. But the team worked well together and actually came up with unified decisions at the end of most of those arguments.”
Yet Summers’ comparison to former President Bill Clinton -- coming from someone who worked closely with both men -- is a particular slight to a Democratic president whose reelection hopes hinge on the ability to sell an economic plan to a skeptical public.
Obama’s standing with the public is at or near low points in several measurements, from general approval rating to specific faith in his ability to revive the economy. His support among independents and core Democrats is eroding, just as the Republican presidential field begins to take shape.
Warning signs for the president abound after last week’s special-election losses, including the loss of a New York City House race in a district that hasn’t sent a Republican to Congress in nearly 90 years.
Also last week, former Clinton hand James Carville made headlines by calling on the president to “panic.” His recipe included firing “a lot of people,” so the president is no longer relying on the “same political and economic advisers that got us into this mess.”
As for those advisers, many have moved out of formal roles in the White House. But their memories will linger on in Suskind’s book.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio