Thursday, May 29, 2008
Personal Aside: When an Ex-Press Secretary Defects.
Eugene McCarthy had a series of press secretaries who quit during his 1968 run for the presidency both of whom turned against himone of whom wrote a salacious book about him. His comment to me: You should never care when a press secretary quits. Theyre a dime a dozen. But when the driver quits, thats terrible.
McClellan didnt quit as George W. Bushs press secretaryhe was relieved of command, the successor being Tony Snow. Therefore the wrath of someone let go from a highly visible post usually is something to behold. Presidential press secretaries with the exception of Jim Haggerty (Eisenhowers) are usually well down the totem pole but they insist they arent (for example, Pierre Salinger was a kind of buffoon with JFK and his people), although they must inflate their closeness in order to maximize their influence with the media. I was a press secretary to a Minnesota governor and two congressmen. Only one of those would I say I was so reasonably close to that I could interpret his thought processes in any meaningful way: that was the governor to whom I was the last to speak before I went to bed every night and the first one (except my wife) to speak to on arising, Elmer L. Andersen. For the other two I was a variant of a well-treated go-fer, Walter Judd taking me into his confidence only on occasion.
The job is arduous enough if youre going to do it right that there is no time to be a serious policy adviser (and I was a public relations adviser solely with Andersen: how will this story play? If you do this, the press will treat it such-and-such). Therefore I would put down as personal pique McClellans version that we went to war on Bushs zest to be a wartime president. When the time comes and Condeleeza Rice, Dick Cheney. Don Rumsfeld, Bob Gates, Tony Snow and others write their reflections as well as Bush himself historians will have the grist to form their judgments. They will assuredly take McClellans views into considerationbut there will be many other points of view to add to the schema. Billy Herndon who was a junior law partner of Abraham Lincoln was responsible for the canard that Lincolns marriage was unhappy and that Lincoln went to a prostitute who, as Lincoln was undressing, said she would charge him $10 whereupon Lincoln put his clothes back on and said he had better use for the money.
Presidents have to live with this sort of pettiness. My own view is that Scott McClellan has a good bit of personal rehab to do since he looked ill-at-ease and transfixed by position papers when he met the press. His defection has been timed for the maximum political effect to help Barack Obama and to make himself a sizable chunk of dough in speaking fees. We do not necessarily have to depend on Scott McClellan for an assessment of the role of Bush in history. M view is that George W. Bush will go down as a latter-day version of Harry Trumanheavily unpopular at the end of his term but who will grow in stature with every passing year. I would rather rely on the judgment of Bernard Lewis, the 92 year old expert on the Middle East, about the salutary effect of Bushs standing up to Islamo-fascism than the reflections of Scott McClellan and McClellan will be regarded as a very-very insignificant factor in history.
Although he will be greatly useful to Barack Obama right now.