Famously, in the movie “Casablanca,” it’s just before he’s handed his casino winnings that Claude Raines’ Capt. Renault declares he’s closing down Rick’s Cafe because he’s, “Shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in this establishment.”
The “shock” seemed about equally sincere as America’s 24-hour electronic news cycle went all atwitter Wednesday and Thursday over the release of former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan’s “tell-all” memoir, “What Happened.”
According to The Los Angeles Times summary of the new book, the former Bush White House staffer contends some of the Bush administration’s most senior officials regularly lied to the public, conducted a “permanent campaign” to advance the Republican political agenda, and managed the debate leading up to the invasion of Iraq in a way that “almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option.”
Specifically, Mr. McClellan asserts former White house political strategist Karl Rove and former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby deceived him during the investigation of the 2003 “outing” of domestic CIA employee Valerie Plame.
Now, presidents should not lie to the electorate, nor knowingly allow their subordinates to do so. This stymies the process of public debate, which — when allowed free rein — can raise legitimate objections to a proposed course of action, helping to avoid costly blunders.
And, no doubt, “spinning” the truth to favor some predetermined course of action can veer so close to a “lie” that only a Washington lawyer would pretend to discern a substantive difference.
But, that said, it turns out — since Ms. Plame hadn’t worked overseas in some years — that “revealing” the ill-kept secret that she was a CIA employee wasn’t a crime, at all. To condemn the White House’s “political agenda” without mentioning the Democratic political motives of the witch-hunt to “find out who outed Valerie Plame” is just silly.
The notion that the Bush White House has been unique in “spinning” the facts to promote the political agenda of the president’s party or to build public support for a course of action already decided on must rank on the scale of outrage and breathless revelation somewhere between the news that Carol Lynley didn’t really do her own singing (or Shelley Winters her own swimming) in “The Poseidon Adventure,” and the heartbreaking realization that the Popeil pocket fishing rod, sold on late-night TV for $19.95, wasn’t really “a $139 value.”
We hope Mr. McClellan — who in essence admits here that he accepted a paycheck to keep silent and participate in all this purposeful misdirection — is telling the truth, now. Such first-hand accounts must be sifted for any real revelations they contain, in hopes of providing historians and — eventually — voters with better methods to demand and discern straight talk from our leaders.
But the real story here, as pointed out by Linda Fowler, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, is not so much any “revelations” about how policies are set and “sold” at this level of government, but rather “more about the political drama of the Bush White House slowly self-destructing” as former members of the waning administration, presumably, realize that a president in his final year possesses less power to reward loyalty and “punish” those who carry tales, and therefore decide they need to “look out for their own selves,” in this case by carrying tales in hopes of selling a few thousand books.
After all, who would buy a book called “And Everything Was Hunky-Dory”?
“Scott, as we know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House,” comments current Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino.
He’s gotten it off his chest, now. One suspects Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove won’t lose too much sleep. What Mr. McClellan has done for his own future employment prospects remains to be seen. There’s always Air America … or PBS.