A past Suskind error

A past Suskind error

I wish I didn’t have to write this post, but I feel obliged to do so.

Reporter Ron Suskind has a new and quite critical book about the Obama economic team and the Obama White House.  I am not linking to it because I am not recommending it.  While I often differ with the current team’s approach to economic policy, I do not take Mr. Suskind’s reporting seriously because of my own experience.

Mr. Suskind wrote another book about Presidential economic advisors during the Bush Administration, focusing on Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s perspective.  In that book Mr. Suskind describes a meeting of President Bush with his economic advisors in November of 2002.  This was the meeting at which the President’s advisors debated whether the President should propose a new tax cut bill in early 2003 (he did).  (President Bush also fired Secretary O’Neill in December 2002.)

Mr. Suskind gets some of the details right – the meeting was in the Roosevelt Room, he has the correct list of attendees, and he captures some of the substance and flavor of the debate.

He then includes a paragraph-long quote he claims I said to the President.  In that quote (in quotation marks), Mr. Suskind wrote that I argued in favor of doing the tax cut, and that I was therefore rebutting Secretary O’Neill and two other Cabinet-level advisors.

I did favor the tax cut, but the quote Mr. Suskind attributes to me is fabricated.  I didn’t say anything even remotely similar to what he quoted me as saying, and I didn’t make a recommendation in that meeting.  I know this with certainty because this was the first big Presidential meeting in which I had a significant speaking role, and I was, to say the least, nervous.

I was at the time a White House “deputy,” one big notch below the Cabinet officials and senior White House advisors who were debating what the President should do.  My role in that meeting was to be the honest broker staffer who walked the President through the numbers and policy options.  I was entirely focused on that task.

Had I weighed in on one side of the debate, I would have undermined my honest broker role and also undercut my boss, NEC Director Larry Lindsey.  It was my role to present the facts, numbers, and options as neutrally and accurately as possible, and Larry’s role to debate with Secretary O’Neill and others.  Having been in the job only three months, I was also nervous enough that I would not then have challenged a Cabinet Secretary in front of the President, much less several.

It’s a small point, and something that only I would notice.  Neither Mr. Suskind nor anyone else affiliated with the book had contacted me about the quote before publication, and indeed I never interacted with the author until I met him accidentally several years later.

Had the book purported to characterize my view, rather than actually quoting me, I might have shrugged it off.  But when you see a fabricated, unverified quote attributed to you in a book that claims to be a historical description of an important policy meeting with the President, it sticks with you.

Mr. Suskind’s earlier book about the Bush Administration was an inaccurate and unfair depiction of the President and the advisors for whom I worked, and of the White House in which I worked.  It was clearly fed by a disgruntled former Presidential advisor promoting himself and pushing his own agenda.

I will assume the same about his latest.  Amazon should move it to the Fiction category.

(photo credit: Enokson)

Switching to Facebook comments

Switching to Facebook comments

While repairing the damage I did this week to the technical back end of this blog, I lost about 150 recent comments.  I can see them in the database but am having trouble recovering them and linking them to their respective posts.  I’ll keep working on it.

I also switched commenting systems.  I am now using Facebook Comments rather than the Intense Debate system.

I have also updated my comments policy.  The new policy is quite close to the old one.  I have tightened up the language a lot and placed a slightly greater emphasis on filtering out off-topic comments.

Over the past two years I have had mixed feelings about comments on KeithHennessey.com.  Some comments really increase the value of what I post, and there are some great commenters who add enormously to a discussion of American economic policy.  That’s important to me.

Then there are the trolls, who post insulting, offensive, wildly off-topic, or otherwise childish things.  Comment trolls suck.  I despite them.

I try to find time to read every comment posted, with varying degrees of success.  I have found that reading troll comments discourages me from writing.  I think it also discourages others from reading and from participating in the discussion.  Why should someone join a policy debate when half the people in the discussion are jerks?

There is an inverse relationship between blog traffic and comment quality.  When a big site or a high-profile person links to one of my posts, my traffic spikes.  That’s great.  At the same time, I get a lot more comments, which would also be great, except that the average comment quality plummets.  That’s when I get the drive-by commenters, many of whom are trolls.

At times over the past two years I have considered eliminating comments entirely, and I noticed that others whom I respect did this long ago.

I am therefore excited to try this new commenting system from Facebook.  It shifts the balance in favor of higher quality posts by making it harder to post anonymous comments.

To leave a comment here you will now need either a Facebook or a Yahoo! ID.  Without one you can no longer comment here.  Since Facebook IDs are linked to real identities, this means that anonymous commenting will be seriously diminished here.

The downside of the new system is that a few of my best commenters may no longer comment.  I’m not sure how important anonymity is to them.  If it is important, I hope they will get a Yahoo! ID and continue to contribute to the discussion.  This is a hassle for those few, and it is an unavoidable cost.

I expect the average quality and decorum of comments will increase as the quantity decreases.  I hope that higher quality will over time attract more people to join the discussion.

There are two other benefits for me.  Fewer trolls means I will less frequently get ticked off when working on this site.  I think that means I’ll write more and feel better about it.

Also, since comments posted with a Facebook ID will default to cross-posting on your Facebook wall, it should drive more traffic here.  That’s great, since this is a one-man site.  I want more readers and more commenters.

A vigorous discussion of this shift is taking place at TechCrunch.  I studied their analysis and the debate closely before making this decision.  If this subject interest you, you can start by reading their excellent post The Pros and Cons of Facebook Comments.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed comments over the past two years.  For those who didn’t click above, here is my updated comments policy.

Comments policy

I invite and enjoy substantive comments from any ideological perspective. I especially welcome those who disagree with me.

Please help me make this site a place of impassioned and respectful debate by following these commenting guidelines:

  1. No profanity or patently offensive language.
  2. No personal attacks on anyone, including other commenters.  Treat this as a discussion among friends.  Debate vigorously and play nicely, please.
  3. Please stay on topic.  If your post begins with, “You’re missing the point, the real problem is …” then please start your own blog.
  4. No commercial advertising or spam.

During more than seven years working in the United States Senate, I developed respect for the Senate floor rules of decorum. Senators must always address the Chair, rather than speaking directly to each other. Personal attacks are a violation of the Senate rules. Members from radically different ideological perspectives refer to each other as, “My good friend, the Senator from [State],” even when they despise each other. Personal attacks are a violation of Senate rules.  Over time, this artificially created politeness creates an environment of vigorous, impassioned, yet civil debate that mostly focuses on policy questions and infrequently descends into gutter attacks. I hope to create the same environment here, and will do what is necessary to enforce a respectful discussion.

If you’re a jerk, I will ban you. Permanently.

I am now using Facebook’s commenting system on this blog.  When you post a comment using a Facebook ID, there is a checkbox labeled “Post comment to my Facebook profile” that defaults to on.  If you don’t want your Facebook friends (or others you have allowed to view your profile) to see your comment, you will need to uncheck this box each time you comment.

I reserve all rights to ignore, edit, delete, move, or mark as spam any and all comments, for any reason, even if they don’t violate the above guidelines. I also retain the right to block anyone from commenting or accessing this blog.

Your comments are your responsibility. By submitting a comment on this blog, you agree that the comment content is your own, and you agree to hold this site, Keith Hennessey, and all representatives harmless from any and all repercussions, damages, or liability.



Having totally fouled up the back end of this blog, I am now in the process of restoring it after a complete from-scratch reinstall. Arrgh.

I think I have fixed most of the big stuff, but please don’t be surprised if there are some glitches over the next few days. In particular, I lost a bunch of comments (157, to be precise) that I have yet to figure out how to restore. Also, I’m still restoring pictures and graphs to some posts.

Please bear with me.

(photo credit: Dario Villanueva)

Advancing a Free Society

Advancing a Free Society

I hope you’ll take a look at a new site I helped create called Advancing a Free Society. It’s a product of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

You’ll find short blog-post length thought pieces by Hoover fellows and scholars associated with Hoover. Each weekday you’ll find 3-8 posts relevant to current policy debates.

All content on Advancing a Free Society has three things in common:

  • It is directed at the core of Hoover Institution’s mission statement, “Ideas defining a free society.”
  • It is short and relevant to current policy debates.
  • It is produced by a Hoover fellow or someone closely affiliated with the Hoover Institution through one of its working groups or task forces.

Some of the content is exclusive to this site, while much of it is excerpted and linked from other places where Hoover fellows and scholars are already publishing.

The writers are smart and thoughtful, and there is a lot of subject matter breadth. There’s a lot of content about economic policy, foreign and national security policy, education policy, legal issues, and a range of other topics.

I don’t agree with all of the content but the diversity of views is part of the fun.

You’ll find content from Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz, from Gary Becker, Ed Lazear, John Taylor, Michael Boskin, Robert Barro, and Niall Ferguson, from Chester Finn, Eric Hanushek, and Michael Petrilli, and from Peter Robinson, Victor Davis Hanson, David Brady, and Timothy Garton Ash, as well as many others. Most of it is written content, but there are some radio and TV interviews as well.

I am cross-posting most of my content on Advancing a Free Society. My more political or partisan pieces I’ll keep just on my site.

As an example of the breadth of content, here are some featured posts at the moment:

If you’re interested in policy and freedom, I think you’ll be able to find something that interests you. Please check it out, bookmark it, and subscribe to the RSS feed.


Hello, world

Hello, world

This post is just for fun. Well, fun for me at least.

Thanks to the clustrmaps plugin, I can tell how many visits this blog has had from each country. I then used a neat Visited Countries tool by Douwe Osinga that allows you to color countries you have visited to create the map below.

People from 152 countries have visited KeithHennessey.com, 67.5% of all States in the world.

A lot of my international traffic comes courtesy of Greg Mankiw. His economics textbooks are used around the world and he has quite a global following. Any time Greg links to me I get a lot of international visitors.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that 86% of my traffic is from the U.S. The next ten top visiting countries, in descending order, are:

  1. Canada
  2. China
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Australia
  5. Germany
  6. Japan
  7. India
  8. France
  9. Spain
  10. New Zealand

These numbers do not include traffic to the Chinese mirror of KeithHennessey.com. Thanks to Netease for providing it.

Finally, here’s the list of 152 countries that have had someone visit this blog, grouped by continent. I think this is incredibly cool.





To my guests from around the world:

Welcome, thank you for visiting, and I hope you learn a little about American economic policy while you’re here. Please leave me a comment on this post!

The Real West Wing Tour Guide

The Real West Wing Tour Guide

Here is a small Christmas gift for you: The Real West Wing Tour Guide (circa 2007).

While the general public can often get a White House East Wing tour through the office of their Member of Congress, West Wing tours can only be given by White House staff.

Through most of President Bush’s time in office, staff were allowed to give tours Tuesday through Friday evenings, and also on weekends.

One summer (I think it was 2003) my West Wing colleague Krista Ritacco and I thought it would be helpful and fun to create a written tour guide for staff. We could improve the quality and accuracy of information and generally help make tours better for both the visitors and the tour guides.

We recruited Krista’s intern, then-Duke University student Sarah Hawkins, to research and write the first version. We then produced simple decks of index cards which we distributed to friends and colleagues on the White House staff. They quickly became an underground hit and were frequently used on tours.

The project went through several iterations, the last quasi-public version of which was developed by Ashley Hickey.

Karen Evans came up with the idea of upgrading it from index cards to a more professional appearance. This is the version you see below, produced by Karen Evans, Tony Summerlin, and the Touchstone Consulting Group on a volunteer basis without using taxpayer dollars. We never distributed this version broadly, even to other White House staff. The contents are identical to the last “public” version, but this version looks even better.

I am distributing this under a Creative Commons License – you can distribute, share, and display this, but you must attribute it, you may not edit it, and you may not use it for commercial purposes.

I invite others to mirror the 10 MB PDF so my host isn’t overloaded. Please provide a link to this page if you do.

I expect that today’s West Wing is somewhat different, especially in the displayed artwork and decor. Nevertheless, I hope you find this interesting and enjoyable.

Merry Christmas. Please click on the cover below to see the Guide. If you get an error message, please update your version of Adobe Acrobat Reader. And thanks to those submitting errata in the comments.


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