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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

The Rhetorical Rollout

The response from the White House to Scott McClellan's book is not surprising in tone — the idea that the administration would produce people to controvert the bad stories in the book was a foregone conclusion. I will say, that for a book that wasn't supposed to be released until Monday, the speed and efficiency with which the Bush administration has moved to staunch the book's bad PR added up to a larger and more coordinated effort than I had expected.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino took the most direct route back to high school:

"It is sad," said current White House press secretary Dana Perino, dismissing McClellan on Wednesday as "disgruntled about his experience at the White House. ... This is not the Scott we knew."

That "this is not the Scott we knew" seems to be the main plank in a platform built out of subtle indignation and hurt feelings. "Beyond the pale" is a phrase you are likely to hear quite a bit on the subject in the following days, as Dan Bartlett said on the Today Show this morning. Some responses are more direct than others: if talking point #1 is "Scotty, we hardly knew ye" then talking point #2 will be that Scotty is being "self-serving."

And fair enough, I say. Rarely is there ever a tell-all published by someone deep enough inside to write a tell-all in the first place that doesn't engage in at least a little bit of revisionist history in re: The Author. McClellan's story makes McClellan out to be a conscientious objector with a little self-flagellation thrown in for good measure.

I think the reaction that has surprised me the most comes from stalwart ever-defender and Smart Kid Alpha Ari Fleischer. Again, from the Chicago Tribune:

Ari Fleischer, who served as Bush's first press secretary, echoed the White House's suggestion that this is not the Scott McClellan he remembers. Yet in an interview with Fox News, Fleischer also voiced some sympathy for the task that McClellan faced.

"He got dealt a deck of cards that were very tough," Fleischer said. "He was the press secretary at a time when the war in Iraq started to go very badly, he had issues inside with staffers who deceived him. There are some legit issues that Scott raises, but the point he makes about the president and the war in Iraq, that's just the part I don't understand."

On the hand, this is totally logical - of course McClellan's dissent on the war is where it all falls apart for Fleischer, because the war has rarely been graced with a bigger champion. If you'll remember, Fleischer is one of the running gunners of Freedom's Watch, an explicitly anti-Democrat, pro-war lobbying group.

Consider that for a moment - Freedom's Watch literally lobbies for the War in Iraq, essentially carrying forward the dichotomous message of "You're Either With Us or Against Us." This would seem to indicate that, whether you agree with their politics or not, there wouldn't be much room for hedging or sympathy among their leadership for people like Scott McClellan. And yet, here is Ari Fleischer, saying, "I don't get it, but Scott did have a rough time of it."

I don't rightly know what to make of it all. I do know that this book could result in subpoenas and will undoubtedly result in several response books about how Scott McClellan is a liar and everyone he disparages is awesome. That's how the externalities of politics and media work, after all, and it is a part of the system no former White House staffer can escape, no matter how far from Washington they end up.

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