Let’s Talk Scott McClellan

I waited to comment on the whole Benedict McClellan issue until I seen a few of his interviews and how the media reacted and, I have to say, I’m disappointed in our journalistic brethren – but when am I not, really? He’ll be on Hardball later today and I’ll watch that without expectation that Chris Matthews will somehow cunningly extract new revelations from our little Texas pudge muffin.

scott mcclellan

One of the most important, yet eentzy facts when addressing What Happened? has only reached my ears once amid the media and political brouhaha the book has stirred. He repeatedly says he’s from a political family and, as a Texas resident, allow me to offer you a little history. His mother is Carol Keeton Strayhorn, a well-known politician in our state having served as first female mayor of state capital Austin, state comptroller of public accounts, as well as the first woman on the Texas Railroad Commission (which largely regulates the oil and gas industry) and, lastly, having run for governor in our last election. She started out as a Democrat (most rural Oklahomans and Texans are old-school Democrats from the times before the parties swapped demographics decades ago), but caught up with the times and became Republican in the 80’s. Recently, she opted to break from the state Republican party, who currently suckles at the teat of Gov. Rick Perry (Bush’s Lt. Governor and arguably one of the worst governors in TX history) and register her gubernatorial campaign under the Independent banner. She claimed she wanted to set partisan politics aside. Now we’ve been hearing that theme from her son as one of the main reasons he served Bush and continued to serve Bush while disagreeing with him on weighted issues such as the war of choice that has developed into the quagmire of Iraq.

carole keeton strayhorn

I’m not questioning the sincerity of their claims of detestation of the partisan politics – in fact, I’m glad to see long-established Republicans breaking from the good ‘ol boy system we have in Texas. However, those in search of an understanding of the motivations behind What Happened? as well as McClellan’s seemingly openness to an Obama vote must look to his status as mamma’s boy, rather than as former press secretary for Bush.

keeton-mclellan celebration

(that’s scott on the left – found the photo in The Austin Chronicle)

One of the assertions I have found helpful in my few efforts to understand Scott McClellan is that he was misused as press secretary and simply wasn’t a good candidate for the position. I concur. Having watched many of his press conferences, his inability to communicate effectively with the press corps and adversarial relationship with it made it painful to watch as he inartfully dodged question after question. Robert Draper, author of Dead Certain (I’ll submit a review of this book soon), characterized Scott McClellan as, “looking like nothing so much as a terrified if well-fed koala bear as he peered out from behind the press room podium and recited his message lines as if at gunpoint.”

While it is true the administration simply used the position of press secretary as merely a buffer from the intrusion of the media and not as a way to effectively reach the American people, Scott still clearly misunderstood the priority of the podium. He repeatedly, almost certainly, used plausible deniability as a justification not to push for information from the administration and clearly underestimated his responsibility as message-deliverer. While he states in his book that Bush convinces himself of whatever he needs to in order to stick to his guns, Scott obviously did so as well.

The mere fact that there is so much “pot calling the kettle black” in this book is quite unsettling. Also, upon hearing the style of speech and grammatical mistakes in McClellan’s interviews, I am almost positive he used a ghostwriter as the quotations I’ve read from the book are incredibly poignant and well-written. Many people write much better than they speak (especially with the help of an editor) and it is not a huge deal to use a ghostwriter, but it is an issue I think he should address in his media campaign. While many of these memoirs use ghostwriters, I doubt Dee Dee Myers, George Stephanopolous, Doug Feith or Ari Fleischer relied so heavily on someone else’s pen. As a writer, I feel this makes a difference in the sincerity of the book.

I do agree that Scott McClellan should have had the fortitude of character to leave the administration, or raise his voice, if he felt so out-of-step with the direction toward warfare Bush and Cheney so vehemently veered. Having not done so, the publishing of his critical memoir before the exit of Bush (and I’m no fan of the guy) is questionable. Obviously, he’s angry about the whole Plame debacle, as well he should be. But his memoir delivers no new evidence of the wrong-doings by the snakes in the White House. It’s simply a case of too little, too late, bubba. Anti-climactic and irrelevant.

The reaction out of the administration and its former members is so paltry and fake, however, it only lends credence to the memoir itself. Even those no longer in the employ of the administration stuck to the set talking points so deliberately, they should have just put Perino’s comments on replay. The reaction, no doubt planned during the month the White House had access to the memoir before its existence was leaked, only issued meager character assassinations of Scott rather than refuted a single fact in the book. Gag.

The subject is a tired one and won’t remain in the top news categories much longer, if it still is. I have no idea where Scott goes from here besides aiding his mother’s possible run for Austin mayor next year. It’s still undecided if he’d be an asset to anybody at this point.

I suppose I’m glad Scott decided to write openly about his misgivings during his tenure in the Bush administration. Better late than never. This however, shouldn’t be a celebration for us lefties, but more a sad realization that the plague of acquiescence in the government during run up to the Iraq War has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, untold collateral damages as illustrated in the rise of commodity prices, and should never, ever be duplicated by anybody in the government or military claiming to have a spine and the ability to reason.


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