In Bushworld, Betrayal Is Okay for Thee, Not for We

Jonathan Martin at Politico reports that Bob Dole flamed Scott McClellan in an email that makes a typical Michelle Malkin post look like a church newsletter:

Bob Dole yesterday sent a scalding e-mail to Scott McClellan, excoriating the former White House spokesman as a “miserable creature” who greedily betrayed his former patron for a fast buck.

In an extraordinary message obtained and authenticated by Politico, Dole uses his trademark biting wit to portray McClellan as a classic Washington opportunist.

“There are miserable creatures like you in every administration who don’t have the guts to speak up or quit if there are disagreements with the boss or colleagues,” Dole wrote in a message sent yesterday morning. “No, your type soaks up the benefits of power, revels in the limelight for years, then quits and, spurred on by greed, cashes in with a scathing critique.”

Michael Marshall, Dole’s spokesman and colleague at the Alston Bird law firm, confirms the message came from the former senator and presidential candidate. “Yes, it is authentic,” Marshall wrote in an e-mail.

“In my nearly 36 years of public service I’ve known of a few like you,” Dole writes, recounting his years representing Kansas in the House and Senate. “No doubt you will ‘clean up’ as the liberal anti-Bush press will promote your belated concerns with wild enthusiasm. When the money starts rolling in you should donate it to a worthy cause, something like, ‘Biting The Hand That Fed Me.’ Another thought is to weasel your way back into the White House if a Democrat is elected. That would provide a good set up for a second book deal in a few years”

Dole assures McClellan that he won’t read the book — “because if all these awful things were happening, and perhaps some may have been, you should have spoken up publicly like a man, or quit your cushy, high-profile job.”

“That would have taken integrity and courage but then you would have had credibility and your complaints could have been aired objectively,” Dole concludes. “You’re a hot ticket now, but don’t you, deep down, feel like a total ingrate?”

Dole later felt the need to explain his behavior:

Bottom line is that I have little respect for turncoats like McClellan who have it both ways. Some in public (and private) life have no shame when big bucks are involved. If their motive is ‘good government,’ O.K. but that’s rarely the case.”

“It’s just not right but it happens in nearly every administration. It sort of happened to me in a very small way when a low level employee in my Senate office left and published a book in 1995 titled ‘Senator for Sale.’ He claimed to be a close confidant, etc. The book bombed because neither he nor his rambles had any credibility with the media or the public.

Of course, Scott McClellan was not a “low-level employee” with no credibility. Certainly there’s room for critical evaluation of the book, but not on the basis of McClellan lacking the access to know the things he writes about.

Also, the idea that McClellan wrote the book “to make a quick buck” is absurd. I have no doubt at all that McClellan received a handsome advance for his book, but then he had to write the book. There are a hell of a lot easier ways someone in McClellan’s position could have made “a quick buck” off his experiences as press secretary than to write a book. He resigned two years ago. The book is just coming out now. That’s hardly a quick buck.

And another thing. All this self-righteous talk about McClellan’s ingratitude, betrayal, and disloyalty is, to use Dan Bartlett’s word, crap. What does it mean to say that McClellan betrayed Karl Rove’s trust, or Dick Cheney’s trust, or Pres. Bush’s trust, when what they were trusting him with was the passing on of misinformation and outright lies? If McClellan is describing what happened truthfully — and after eight years of this administration, only the willfully blind could think it doesn’t sound credible — McClellan’s superiors at the White House were giving him information to give to the press — about the war, about intelligence, about the Valerie Plame affair — that they assured him was true, and that he believed was true, but that they knew was not true. In my book of ethics, that was playing him for a fool. Doesn’t shock me that he might have felt betrayed. And according to yet another Politico piece on this matter, it didn’t shock many of the White House reporters that McClellan worked with, either:

Since excerpts from McClellan’s forthcoming book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” were published by Politico on Tuesday evening, most of McClellan’s former White House colleagues have expressed shock at the book’s negative tone.

Those familiar with the inner workings of the Bush White House — from current press secretary Dana Perino to former political guru Karl Rove — have said the book doesn’t sound like the McClellan they knew.

But several of the reporters who jousted with McClellan during his tenure at the briefing room podium from July 2003 to April 2006 — the same group of reporters who McClellan now describes as being “too deferential” in the run-up to invading Iraq — say they are not surprised that the mild-mannered spokesman has lashed out.

Peter Baker, previously a White House correspondent for The Washington Post and now a writer for The New York Times magazine, said McClellan — despite years of loyalty to Bush — has a deep sense of betrayal over unknowingly conveying misinformation as press secretary.

The book is “not surprising after talking to him,” Baker said. “You got a sense that his perspective had changed. You can’t overestimate how the CIA case [in which former operative Valerie Plame was outed] left him burned … and being pummeled for passing along untrue statements.”

It’s also not so terribly hard to imagine staying in such a situation, rather than resigning or making your feelings known:

There are two schools of thought forming inside regarding Scott McClellan’s bombshell book: Either he should have resigned then, or he’s been coopted by nefarious forces (read: liberal publishers).

The first school of thought is explicated by my U.S. News colleague John Mashek in his blog today. Mashek runs through the list of people who have resigned in protest over the years, starting with Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus during Watergate (he forgot Tony Lake resigning from that administration over invading Cambodia) and running right up through Peter Edelman quitting Clinton over the welfare overhaul.

Resignation certainly has a distinguished history and a powerful case. But … while I’m only about 50 pages into the volume, I actually find McClellan’s story — that the tone of the book evolved in the writing and as he decompressed from his White House experience — entirely plausible. Have you ever been in a situation where you behave in a certain way and then, with the passage of both time and the pressures of the moment, you look back and wonder at your choices? Looking back budding problems are clear but you just didn’t see them, acknowledge them, what have you?

Unless you’re Bob Dole, of course. In that case, you always know the right thing to do.

One Response to “In Bushworld, Betrayal Is Okay for Thee, Not for We”

  1. gcotharn says:

    I agree with you here. Forget the attacks on McClellan. Focus on any charges McClellan made. Respond to those. Logically show why they are incorrect or scurrilous.

    Now, my suspicion would be that the White House has no effective response to McClellan charges. However, I don’t see what McClellan has charged which is damaging.

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