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Last Updated: Saturday, 10 January, 2004, 05:55 GMT
O'Neill lashes 'blind man' Bush
President Bush in the Oval Office
Bush: Blind to his cabinet?
A former US treasury secretary has given an unflattering account of his time under President George W Bush.

Paul O'Neill describes Mr Bush as being disengaged and says that at cabinet meetings the president was like a blind man in a room full of deaf people.

The remarks come as Democratic challengers prepare for the crucial Iowa and New Hampshire caucuses later this month.

Former Vice-President Al Gore has been backing the front-runner, Howard Dean.

"He is inspiring a lot of new enthusiasm at the grass-roots level and that is exactly what the Democratic Party needs," said Mr Gore.


During his nearly two years as treasure secretary, Paul O'Neill was known for his blunt speaking.

In a CBS interview to be screened on Sunday, Mr O'Neill says his initial meeting with Mr Bush turned into a monologue, with the president simply listening and unwilling to engage in discussion.

Mr O'Neill's blunt style occasionally rattled financial markets and eventually led to him being sacked in December 2002 after he questioned the need for some of President Bush's tax cuts.

Paul O'Neill
I was surprised it turned out me talking and the president just listening.
Paul O'Neill

He says there was a lack of real dialogue at cabinet meetings with Mr Bush so detached that he was "like a blind man in a room full of deaf people".

"I went in with a long list of things to talk about and, I thought, to engage [him] on," said Mr O'Neill recalling the first meeting.

"I was surprised it turned out me talking and the president just listening... It was mostly a monologue."

A BBC correspondent in Washington says the White House has refused to address the remarks directly but aides have often said the president sets the tone and broad principals of the administration's policies, while delegating the details to his advisors.

'Anybody But Bush'

Howard Dean remains best-placed among the Democrats in the run-up to the primaries' season.

But he remains vulnerable because of his unguarded comments.

A recent CNN/Time poll showed that when a cross-section of Americans were asked whether Mr Dean could beat George Bush for the White House, 53% said no.

The issue remains Mr Dean's Achilles heel and could sway Democrats who often identify themselves as the "ABB Party" - Anybody But Bush.

On Friday, the former Vermont governor was forced onto the defensive over comments he made four years ago that the Iowa caucus was "dominated by the special interests" and was not a good forum for local people to hear candidates' views.

"I know a lot more today", said Mr Dean, adding that he was tired of "gotcha politics".

He leads a field of nine hopefuls for the Democrats' presidential nomination.

The Iowa caucus will be held on 19 January, with New Hampshire's primary eight days later.

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