What Happened

President Bush has said he will try to “forgive” his former Press Secretary Scott McClellan for writing What Happened. A better course of action would be for the president to read it.

According to McClellan, the Bush administration, instead of getting down to the business of governing, got caught up in playing the Washington game of the “permanent campaign.” Every major policy — including war — became a product that needed to be sold to the American people. Instead of candor, the secrecy-obsessed White House marshaled facts to suit its goals.

It was the campaign to sell Iraq war that destroyed McClellan’s credibilty as press secretary. He made the mistake of relaying assurances from Scooter Libby and Karl Rove that they nothing to do with the illegal leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity. In the case of Libby, McClellan was asked to lie by none other than Vice President Cheney.

Bitter though he may be, McClellan still likes and admires President Bush. The same can’t be said for Secretary of State Condi Rice, who emerges in the pages of What Happened as Bush’s toady. In McClellan’s view, Rice avoids accountability for her ruinous stint as national security adviser through her servility to the president and talent for public relations. Having the ear of the king is the path to power in the Bush White House.

The overall tone the book strikes, however, is one not of partisan rancor, but of sadness. The Bush White House is an opportunity lost, a time of short-sighted leadership where the best intentions are sacrified for short-term gains. It may be an old Washington story but through the eyes of this 30-year-old ex-press secretary, it’s a revealing one.

What Happened suffers from a fatal flaw, however. McClellan’s perspective was extremely limited. He was simply the mouthpiece. If this is the press secretary’s experience. I can’t wait to hear what the strategists really said and did.