Sunday Bookchat

May 31, 2008

The most interesting thing about What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, the new memoir from former White House spokesweasel Scott McClellan, is that the reactions it provokes are far more interesting than the book itself. For one thing, for all the talk about Republicans distancing themselves from Bush, the reaction to McClellan’s “revelations” — which hardly merit the term — have been fully in keeping with the usual GOP defense cordon around He Who Must Not Be Blamed: check out this emission from Bob Dole and repent of any time you considered him a man of integrity. TV newsies Katie Couric and Jessica Yellin admitted in public that they’d been under corporate pressure to present the war in the most glowing Greatest Generation terms.

Karen G., filling for in Matt Yglesias, tries to find some nice things to say:

I think McClellan deserves quite a bit of credit for going public with this, even at this late date. Writing this kind of book could not have been easy for him. He has undoubtedly lost friends. Many of his former colleagues will never speak to him again. If he’d written the kind of anodyne snoozer that Ari Fleischer did, then surely he’d be set for life on the wingnut welfare circuit. But now? Well, let’s just say he’ll never eat lunch in that town again. And it’s not like the liberals are eager to embrace him with open arms, either.

But in coming clean, the man has performed a public service. Unlike Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and the rest of those freaks, McClellan, for all his deep moral deficiencies, is not a sociopath. And yeah, that’s defining deviancy down, for sure. But at least it’s something. McClellan seems to feel genuine regret at what he did, and that’s more than I thought we’d ever get out of any of the Bushies.

Sorry, Karen, but this doesn’t wash. In the contest of viewpoints between bloggers whose names end in a single letter, I’ll go with Tim F:

Without a doubt the most annoying aspect of this firestorm is the way that it validates a criticism that Atrios makes of the media all the time. We had credible people arguing these same points back when airing them might have made a difference, but somehow they never made onto the Sunday opinion shows or got credible treatment by the major news broadcasts. The few journalists who did their job were either ignored like McClatchy or fired like Donahue. The evidence wasn’t exactly hidden – guys like Eric Alterman had it in book form while McClellan was still spreading what he now calls propaganda and bullshit. Yet somehow the range of acceptable opinion in the major media stretched from Joe Lieberman to George Bush. Ideas that everybody takes for granted now – that the WMD argument was poorly founded or invading Iraq unprovoked and occupying it indefinitely might have strategic risks – were considered laughably ‘unserious.’ It often seemed like an idea wasn’t worth taking seriously until someone in the administration brought it up.

This latest brouhaha reinforces that point. Scott McClellan wasn’t a very bright or important guy when he served the president, and he isn’t very bright or important now. Yet in the same way that we still call Jimmy Carter ‘President’ McClellan is still a Bushie. Thus, now the press has permission to talk about being willingly led around by power-drunk morons.

Meanwhile, would somebody like to untangle all the knots Peggy Noonan manages to work into a mere three sentences while talking about the book:

The left, while embracing the book’s central assertions, will paint him as a weasel who belatedly ‘fessed up. They’re big on omertà on the left. It’s part of how they survive.

I mean, what the hell is Nooners trying to say? The Right’s been sticking to its message on Iraq with zombielike discipline while the Left has been clamoring for investigations, but the Left is big on the code of silence? Have years and decades of bought-and-paid-for ideological babbling left this gnat-brained parody of a pundit unable to write a simple, comprehensible English sentence?

Whatever, Peggy. What the fuck ever.

* * * * *

Three books attempt to derail the Straight-Talk Express by asking, Who is the real John McCain? Michael Tomasky finds a common thread in their answers:

But each of the three—all follow the same basic template of critically reassessing the stages of McCain’s career—makes persuasive arguments that while there has been much to respect in McCain in the past, there remain today only shards and vestiges of that man; that in doing what he had to do to become the nominee of a party of orthodox conservatism, he has so sublimated his honorable instincts that they have all but atrophied. He’s not only adopted domestic policy positions he’d long opposed, he has openly pandered to the conservative Republican base by supporting most of Bush’s positions in legislation on the treatment of detainees.

It’s often said of Hollywood that “There’s no there, there.” That appears to go double for John McCain.


2 Responses to “Sunday Bookchat”

  1. David Says:

    You quoted Tim F as saying, “…the most annoying aspect of this firestorm is the way that it validates a criticism that Atrios makes of the media all the time. We had credible people arguing these same points back when airing them might have made a difference…”

    Among the many other contenders for “most annoying aspect of this firestorm” are these:

    1. Bush apologists making Scott McClellan the story in order to distract people from the more important story, which is the Bush admin’s dishonesty.

    2. Liberal bloggers helping them by heaping contempt on McClellan for shining a spotlight on the Bush admin’s dishonesty.

    3. The surprising (to me) revelation that the Bush admin’s lies about Iraq are “old news” that “everyone already knows about.” I’m sorry, I must’ve missed the big press conference where Bush admitted he was lying, as well as the in-depth front page series in the Times about how the intelligence was twisted in favor of war.

    4. Liberal journalists wallowing in self-pity because a Bush admin insider blowing the whistle appears to have a greater ability to draw attention to Bush’s lies.

    5. The cosmic stupidity of’s petition to ask McClellan to donate all of his book profits in support of soldiers in the Iraq war. Way to draw attention away from the more important story (see no. 2 above).

    Scott McClellan is not the enemy. Bush and McCain are. Remember that.

  2. Chucky Says:

    If anything McClellan may have helped prevent a US attack on Iran … which might have prompted Bush to suspend the Constitution and cancel the election.

    Liberals are too much in thrall to the Democratic Party and — as David said — don’t see who the real enemy is. Libertarians do.

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