NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
When President Bush introduced former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill to the public, he described the former head of aluminum maker Alcoa as a man with "a steady voice, someone who can calm people's nerves, calm the markets, and calm those who would speculate on the dollar."
Now O'Neill's out and, looking back, one wonders who Dubya was describing. That so-called eloquence and political savvy -- that "steady voice" -- seems to have backfired on several occasions. Take a look at some of his most memorable quotes below.
So... you want a weak dollar?
Shortly after being named to his Treasury post in December 2000, O'Neill sent the U.S. dollar into a tailspin when he told a German newspaper that the United States wasn't interested in "pursuing... a policy of a strong dollar." Why? Because "a strong dollar was the result of a strong economy."
The world took note, and traders sank the dollar. The Treasury scrambled to cover its bases, issuing a statement that its long-standing strong-dollar policy (regularly reiterated during the Clinton administration) remained intact.
Brazilian currency samba
Not content to fiddle with the value of the dollar alone, however, O'Neill put in his two cents on the Brazilian currency markets as well. In July 2002, O'Neill managed to offend the government of Brazil one week before he was due to visit the country. His remarks were deemed offensive enough to prompt former president Fernando Cardoso to demand a retraction.
O'Neill had made public remarks that Brazil should enact "sound policies, so that aid does some good and doesn't just go out of the country to Swiss bank accounts." After that jab at the Brazilian government, Brazil's currency lost 5 percent of its value, as jittery traders worried about the effect O'Neill's remarks would have on a possible International Monetary Fund loan.
Just two days later, in an attempt to dislodge his foot from his mouth, O'Neill remarked that Brazil's government had been building "a strong foundation for real economic activity thanks to its remarkable job of maintaining sound fiscal and monetary policies."
Enron? It happens
Take the collapse of Enron, once the seventh-largest company in the United States, which filed for bankruptcy after a web of partnerships and questionable accounting fell apart. The company's fall caused huge losses for investors and left its employees' 401(k) accounts virtually worthless.
Despite the sudden shakeup, O'Neill didn't take it too hard.
"Companies come and go," he said to Fox News Sunday in January 2002, when asked if he was surprised by Enron's sudden fall. "It's...part of the genius of capitalism."
Social Security is for wimps
Today, debate on the fate of the Social Security Trust Fund looms large, given budget deficits and a costly war on terrorism. Younger Americans want to know whether Uncle Sam will be able to provide them with significant benefits when it's their turn to put their feet up for good.
But as far as retirement goes, O'Neill downplayed any worries about the future retirement of millions of Americans in a May 2001 interview with the Financial Times.
"Able-bodied adults should save enough on a regular basis so that they can provide for their own retirement and for that matter for their health and medical needs. Because to the extent that able-bodied adults who are earning a reasonable income don't do it, they are basically saying they want the broader society to accept the responsibility for part of their retirement and part of their health and medical care."
Why are you looking at me?
Perhaps the Washington Post best summed up the problem. An editorial from August 2002 mentioned that O'Neill still hadn't accustomed himself to the fact that his words effectively moved markets.
"I'm constantly amazed that anybody cares what I do," he'd said a few days earlier.