Dispatches from the Creation Wars

McClellan’s New Book

As you probably know by now, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has a new book out that apparently really goes after the Bush administration on a number of things. Some of those criticisms, as I’ve seen them cited in the press, I can buy; some of them I can’t. For instance, I don’t buy his claim that he was misled over the Valerie Plame situation. I think he almost certainly knew what was going on and he peddled the company line anyway.

But one of the criticisms he makes is obviously on target and I don’t think it applies only to the Bush administration. I think it applies to every modern administration, where policy is made primarily on the basis of the political advantage one can gain from it rather than on whether it will actually do any good. Managing image and perception have become the goal rather than governing effectively. Like this passage:

He writes, for example, that after Hurricane Katrina, the White House “spent most of the first week in a state of denial,” and he blames Rove for suggesting the photo of the president comfortably observing the disaster during an Air Force One flyover. McClellan says he and counselor to the president Dan Bartlett had opposed the idea and thought it had been scrapped.

But he writes that he later was told that “Karl was convinced we needed to do it — and the president agreed.”

The focus is not on what should be done about the situation, how to ease the suffering or rescue those trapped, it was on how to manage the president’s image. And sadly, that’s how politics is done these days. Decisions are made not by those with expertise in how to solve problems but by political handlers whose only concern is how to make their client look good even if he’s doing nothing. Another example:

Bush was “clearly irritated, … steamed,” when McClellan informed him that chief economic adviser Larry Lindsey had told The Wall Street Journal that a possible war in Iraq could cost from $100 billion to $200 billion: “‘It’s unacceptable,’ Bush continued, his voice rising. ‘He shouldn’t be talking about that.'”

Again, it’s not about what’s true, it’s about the image you can sell to the people. And again, this is not unique to Bush or the Republicans. This is what modern politics has become – all that matters is how to market nonsense to the public using the tools of public relations. It doesn’t matter if you govern well, it only matters if you can convince enough people that you’ve governed well.

And of course, one can’t help but notice that McClellan has a long history of spinning these issues himself and is doing the very same thing the Bush administration has done. You have to love the quotes on Jake Tapper’s blog from McClellan about past whistleblowers. Like this one about Richard Clarke’s book:

Well, why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of a sudden, he’s raising these grave concerns that he claims he had. And I think you have to look at some of the facts. One, he is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign. He has written a book and he certainly wants to go out there and promote that book.

Ya think? Perhaps we should all take McClellan’s advice:

If you look back at his past comments and his past actions, they contradict his current rhetoric. I talked to you all a little bit about that earlier today. Go back and look at exactly what he has said in the past and compare that with what he is saying today.

I have no problem with his writing the book. I’m glad he wrote the book and I would bet that most of it is accurate. But I’d give him a lot more credibility if he would just admit that he lied through his teeth as press secretary and he did so because that was his job. I’m not buying this “I was innocently trying to pass on the truth but they kept me in the dark” line. Bullshit. You were a paid liar and you did your job well.