Scott McClellan, a failed, former press secretary for President Bush, has written a book detailing various outrages the administration supposedly committed and that he helped facilitate, and in the process has badly smirched someone’s reputation. His own.
Even if what he is saying is the truth — and there are reasons to believe he has at the least exaggerated things and at the most made some up — he is then conceding that he served as a willing enabler of all kinds of deceptions in the White House, not the least of which was to trick the nation into war.
Mary Matalin, who herself served in the White House, who knows this man and had disdain for his contribution in White House discussions, summed things up neatly during an appearance on Fox Network’s “Hannity & Colmes.”
“To quote my husband (James Carville) recently, this is Judas on steroids,” she said. “There’s just nothing really like this, and he was either living a lie . . . or he’s now spewing lies to make a living. In any event, at some point he has to tell his nieces and nephews and his kids, what did Daddy do? ‘Well, I was a liar.'”
One theory about why he might be lying now is that he will thus make himself very, very rich. The controversy is bound to sell a ton of books. Ari Fleischer, himself a former press secretary, notes in a statement printed in The Wall Street Journal that “Scott himself repeatedly made the case for the war from the podium, and ever after he left the White House, I remember watching him on Bill Maher’s show — about one year ago — making the case for the war.”
Then, he suggests, the publishing company intervened.
“The book changed a lot from the way Scott first described it to me. Many of the passages in it don’t sound like Scott. He told me yesterday that as the publication deadline approached, his editor ‘tweaked some things closely in the last couple months.’ Nevertheless, it is Scott’s book . . .”
It could maybe be argued that McClellan did ultimately heed his conscience and resign, but as Fleischer said, his leaving the job was not followed by a mea culpa, but by reiterations of what he argued as press secretary, and as Matalin said (and he himself makes clear in the book), he did not resign — he was ushered out the door for reasons of dissatisfaction with his performance. That possibility suggests another motive for the book — revenge — and I can imagine still another: further disassociating himself from a hugely unpopular administration.
Given how the nation has almost uniformly turned against the president — McClellan’s book does say some nice things about him personally, by the way — one might figure that fleeing the sinking ship was not enough; it’s important to throw stones at it, and thus win the hearts of the critics. The sad thing is that while those critics might vastly enjoy the added ammunition that has been provided them, they won’t embrace McClellan, and meanwhile he has alienated himself from old friends.
In the end, of course, we can’t know his motives, although we can deduce facts — we can still point out, for instance, that President Bush’s justifications for war with Iraq were initially echoed by a long list of Democrats (Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Edward Kennedy, among them) who had access to national intelligence and are presumably capable of making independent judgments.
We can note as well that McClellan seems in conflict with himself (or with his publisher) in some passages in the book, as when he says he does not believe Bush “or his White House deliberately or consciously sought to deceive the American people” about the Iraq war, even though it engaged in a “propaganda campaign.”
Excuse me, but you can’t have it both ways, and the attempt to do so is self-repudiating.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)
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