If the Bush Administration were a real family, I always thought Scott McClellan would be Fredo–a go-along nebbish with the tiniest flashes of independence ending up in publicly-unseen woodsheddings and him dutifully toeing the family line the next day, and always, always in way over his head. He’d make the occasional overture at reaching out and trying to find an identity beyond his much-smarter older brothers, but you always knew that in the end he’d be loyal to the family.
One of the Bushes’ favorite surrogate sons is bringing great shame and disappointment to the family with his new book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception (Public Affairs, $27.95). Of all the erstwhile Bush loyalists who’ve taken book deals after they’ve either found or been shown the door, you never thought Scott would pen such a betrayal. McClellan pre-released his book to reporters this past week on the condition that they’d hold off on their review until just before the book was released next Monday. Fortunately, politico.com couldn’t wait that long.
For nearly three years, the announcement of a Scott McClellan press conference inspired little more than an eye-roll and a pre-emptive masturbatory gesture, because everyone knew what to expect: a hapless, doughy, poorly-programmed automaton trotting out the Administration’s latest line with the emotionless rote of a Ken Doll just human enough to be afraid of having his own thoughts: “The President is very confident about our direction in Iraq. The message is clear. Our soldiers on the ground understand that message.” And the (insert numbers of thousands) dead? “The President is very grateful for the service of our soldiers in Iraq. This is a brave fight, and the President shares the nation’s gratitude for its courageous soldiers.”
He wasn’t good so much as he was predictable, even though his performance would always be far from perfect. He was like a Roomba. He came out on command, traversed the room with the most perfunctory effort, bereft of any forceful independence of movement, and did essentially what was expected of him, except that he left a lot of dust and crumbs in his wake, leaving you wondering why they sent him out there in the first place, except for perpetuating the illusion of doing what should be his job.
Well, with his independence–and a fat book contract–the Roomba’s grown up to be a Dyson. He didn’t pull many punches on the men whose government used to sign his paycheck. Of our enduring mess in Iraq, he noted, “The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should never have come as such a surprise. … In this case, the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”
If he was going to emerge with a book contract and call someone out, I never expected it would be the liberal media for not being tough enough on the President. This is Joseph Goebbels saying that it would have been better for the war if the French would have fought harder.
He had more choice words. He assailed Bush and Carl Rove for the politically-retarded photo of Bush in Air Force One flying over New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and looking out the window at the devastation that they officially acknowledged when they got around to it. Rove thought it was the right picture to show, and he clearly won the day over the alleged objections of McClellan and then Chief of Staff Dan Bartlett. “One of the worst disasters in our nation’s history became one of the biggest disasters in Bush’s presidency. Katrina and the botched federal response to it would largely come to define Bush’s second term,” he writes. “And the perception of this catastrophe was made worse by previous decisions President Bush had made, including, first and foremost, the failure to be open and forthright on Iraq and rushing to war with inadequate planning and preparation for its aftermath.”
And the defenders of the the war in Iraq are now practically down to single fingers. Here’s what McClellan thinks of the quagmire that he spent some 33 months officially defending. “History appears poised to confirm what most Americans today have decided: that the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder. No one, including me, can know with absolute certainty how the war will be viewed decades from now when we can more fully understand its impact. What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary.”
As the politico.com story notes, “Even some of the chapter titles are brutal: ‘The Permanent Campaign,’ ‘Deniability,’ ‘Triumph and Illusion,’ ‘Revelation and Humiliation’ and ‘Out of Touch.’”
This is probably all Monday-morning jockeying for position for the inevitable question, “Daddy, what did you do during the war?” Everyone who served the Bush/Cheney staff for as long as they did has a lot to answer for, and everyone has their own reasons for paddling away from this Titanic as fast as they possibly can, but it’s always entertaining everytime another former stalwart takes a seat in the liferaft.