Vindication for the Bush Critique
Monday, June 2, 2008; 1:53 PM
As the response to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's new book enters its second week, the focus has shifted to the messenger rather than his message.
McClellan is a flawed vessel for any serious communication. From behind the podium, he made a mockery of the press and the public's right to know, most notably by repeating non-responsive and sometimes ludicrous talking points. He has yet to persuasively explain his change of heart. And his insistence that self-deception rather than a conscious disregard for the truth was behind what he now describes as the White House's consistent lack of candor is spectacularly self-serving.
But the significance of McClellan's book is that his detailed recounting of what he saw from the inside vindicates pretty much all the central pillars of the Bush critique that have been chronicled here and elsewhere for many years now. Among them:
* That Bush and his top aides manipulated the country into embarking upon an unnecessary war on false pretenses;
* That Bush is an incurious man, happily protected from dissenting views inside the White House's bubble of self-delusion;
* That Karl Rove's huge influence on the Bush White House erased any distinction between policy and politics, so governing became about achieving partisan goals, not the common good;
* That Vice President Cheney manipulates the levers of power;
* That all those people who denied White House involvement in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity were either lying or had been lied to;
* That the mainstream media were complicit enablers of the Bush White House and that its members didn't understand how badly they were being played.
By coming back again and again to the CIA leak story, McClellan also validates a key theme of the Bush critique: That the Plame case was a microcosm of much that was wrong with the way the Bush White House did business.
No one could have predicted that the Plame case would play such a central role in McClellan's personal conversion to Bush critic. But his eventual recognition that Rove and then-vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby had flatly lied to him when they denied any involvement in the leak, along with his sudden realization that Bush and Cheney declassified secrets when it was politically convenient, were evidently two major factors. (A third was his unceremonious firing by Chief of Staff Josh Bolten.)
McClellan's revelation that on Oct. 4, 2003, Bush and Cheney directed him to vouch for Libby's innocence once again raises the question of how the president and particularly the vice president have been able to avoid any kind of public accountability. McClellan even raises the possibility, repeatedly hinted at by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, that Cheney directed Libby to disclose Plame's identity.