By the time the Bush White House finishes with Scott McClellan, the former press secretary - and author of a new book that harshly disses the Decider - will be painted as a raving nut job who deserves to be carted off by the guys in white coats. But such has long been the fate of any former Bush aide who (belatedly) dares to declare in public that the emperor has no clothes.
Witness Matthew Dowd, the ex-Bush pollster who last year turned on his old boss and was quickly dismissed by the remaining Bush loyalists as an emotional wreck ("he's going through a lot of personal turmoil," said Dan Bartlett); or ex-Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, who, after writing in his book that Bush was "like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people," was dismissed as a loose cannon with "wacky ideas"; or ex-national security aide Richard Clarke, who, after writing in 2004 that Bush never fully recognized the pre-9/11 terrorist threat, was promptly condemned as a power-obsessed bureaucrat and Democratic mole who had been passed over for a promotion.
So I was naturally curious to see what sport the Bush team would make of McClellan, now that the former Bush insider from Texas has written, in his memoir due out Monday, that the president in his heyday was a deceptive warlord. And that's no exaggeration. The former press secretary says that Bush ran a "political propaganda campaign" to entrap America in Iraq, that Bush "managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option." McClellan adds: "What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the war in Iraq was not necessary." He also writes that Bush has little or no capacity for admitting error, and therefore little or no inner resources that would allow him to change course when the facts require.
It needs to be noted, of course, that none of this is exactly stop-the-press material; according to the polls, roughly 72 percent of the American people know this stuff already. And, as always, such confessions prompt us to wonder why ex-presidential aides seem to blow the whistle only when they are far removed from the fray, when their candor is of little practical value to anyone save the historians. McClellan hardly qualifies for sainthood after the fact.
Nevertheless, it's been fascinating, once again, to hear the White House seek to spin away the latest truth-teller. Here's press secretary Dana Perino, earlier today: "Scott, we know now, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House. For those of us who fully supported him, before, during and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled. This is not the Scott we knew."
Let's unpack that one. The word "disgruntled" is intended as a pejorative; the message is that since McClellan is lashing out because he was unhappy on the job. The implication, of course, is that he had no real reason to be "disgruntled," although a case can be made that a press secretary who was fed lies by his own associates, and who was then compelled to repeat those lies to the American people (I am referring to his false public assurances that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby had nothing to do with the smearing of Valerie Plame) arguably deserves to be considered justifiably disgruntled.
But Perino's latter two sentences are particularly noteworthy. She makes it sound like the Bushies had to stage an intervention in order to rescue a friend who was going off the deep end...only to sorrowfully discover that the effort was for naught, that the friend was no better - and no more credible, of course - than your average street-corner loon. Hence, "This is not the Scott we knew."
McClellan's integrity reclamation project will continue in the morning when he appears on The Today Show, which means, of course, that John McCain will have to endure another news cycle featuring the antics of this administration. What does he think about McClellan's charge that the war in Iraq, which McCain staunchly supports, was launched on a wave of "propaganda?"
No wonder McCain felt compelled last night to limit his exposure to Bush, while the latter was raising money for McCain in Arizona. The total number of minutes that McCain publicly appeared at Bush's side: