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McClellan’s memoir: Why did he blow the whistle?

“Now he tells us,” said The Philadelphia Inquirer in an editorial. When he served as George W. Bush’s press secretary for three years, Scott McClellan heatedly defended his boss, the Iraq war, and the administrati

Now he tells us,” said The Philadelphia Inquirer in an editorial. When he served as George W. Bush’s press secretary for three years, Scott McClellan heatedly defended his boss, the Iraq war, and the administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina. All the while he was spinning, he now says, he harbored private doubts. In his new memoir, What Happened, McClellan depicts the White House that he served as ruthless, duplicitous, and obsessed with getting its message out at the expense of both the truth and governing. Bush and his aides decided to invade Iraq first, he says, and then waged a relentless “political propaganda campaign” to convince Americans to support that terrible “strategic blunder.” He found Bush himself to be delusional and alarmingly incurious, “never reflecting, never reconsidering, never compromising,” even after Iraq went sour and New Orleans was left devastated by Katrina. “It is one thing for left-wing bloggers to assert, ‘Bush lied, people died,’” said The Economist. “It is another for the president’s own spokesman to question his master’s veracity.”

Nonetheless, said Christopher Hitchens in Slate.com. McClellan’s book is without value. “For one thing, he doesn’t supply anything that can really be called evidence.” For another, he never says Bush and his aides flat-out lied about believing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Instead, the worst he can do is charge them with “obscuring nuances and ignoring the caveats that should have accompanied their arguments.” How strange it is that this untalented, inarticulate so-called spokesman—who used to “blunder” and “perspire” his way through press conferences—now discovers his conscience, after cashing his publisher’s advance check. McClellan’s story just doesn’t add up, said National Review Online. Supposedly, he “stumbled into a reckless, propagandizing administration and did its bidding for years without realizing how nefarious it was.” Please. Everybody has to make a living, but did McClellan really need to stab Bush in the back to pay his bills?

The conservative echo chamber is chanting that question in unison, said USA Today. Bush’s remaining defenders are “pretty much running the standard PR playbook for dealing with whistle-blowers,” trying to discredit McClellan with words such as “disgruntled,” “snitch,” “despicable,” and “disloyal.” But who cares about his motives? The real question is, Is this an accurate portrayal of a dysfunctional administration? said Peggy Noonan in Opinionjournal.com. McClellan describes Bush as personally “charming,” but as vain, politically cynical, and out of his depth. The White House was far more concerned with spin than with governing, he says, using bloggers, radio talk-show hosts, and friendly media to get its message out. When I finished the book, “I came out not admiring McClellan or liking him but, in terms of the larger arguments, believing him.”

How can you not believe him? said Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times. To date, roughly a dozen former Bush administration personnel have published memoirs expressing their dismay with this White House, and their description of Bush and the inner workings of this administration are entirely consistent. Curiously, though, McClellan, Richard Clarke, Paul Bremer, and their fellow grudge holders manage to excuse themselves from any blame for 9/11, Iraq, Katrina, or any of this administration’s many failures. “No matter how bad things got, they never were the worst person in the room, and none of it was ever their idea.” That tells you how bad these past eight years have really been, said Tony Norman in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. When people leave this White House, the best they can do is try to convince historians they were “stupid” rather than “evil.”

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