Politics & Policy

Scott’s Truth vs. Reality

What Happened is an old Washington game.

I have a few preliminary thoughts about Scott McClellan and his new book. I want to draw particular attention to a paragraph that appears in his preface:

Writing it wasn’t easy. Some of the best advice I received as I began came from a senior editor at a publishing house that expressed interest in my book. He said the hardest challenge for me would be to keep questioning my own beliefs and perceptions throughout the writing process. His advice was prescient. I’ve found myself continually questioning my own thinking, my assumptions, my interpretations of events. Many of the conclusions I’ve reached are quite different from those I would have embraced at the start of the process. The quest for truth has been a struggle for me, but a rewarding one. I don’t claim a monopoly on truth. But after wrestling with my experiences over the past several months, I’ve come much closer to my truth than ever before. (p. xi)

[Emphasis in original.]

This is a very postmodern outlook that subordinates actual truth for “my” truth. And the validation for “my truth” is not anything objective; it is, rather, based on sentiments which — we see clearly in the case of Scott — can shift like the wind. But what appears to be Scott’s existential journey has led him to make sweeping and reckless allegations that are at odds with reality. He would have us believe that the Bush administration was, at bottom, massively and deeply deceitful and corrupt — but this has only dawned on Scott since he started writing his book, years after the fact. Let’s just say that for these revelations to spring forth as if truth were like a time-released capsule, in which things magically get clearer with the passage of time (and the signing of book contracts), is, well, suspicious. And my former colleagues are absolutely right to point out that Scott not only never raised any objections contemporaneously, in meetings or with his superiors; in fact, he said almost nothing at all, at any time, about anything of consequence.

My own experience in this regard is telling and not at all uncommon. When I was troubled by something during my White House years — whether it had to do with policy or other matters — I raised those concerns, often with a variety of high-ranking officials (usually Mike Gerson, Dan Bartlett, Karl Rove, or Josh Bolten). I once requested a private meeting to discuss Iraq with Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, a friend for whom I had (and have) enormous respect. I was deeply concerned at that point about what was happening to the war effort, the failures I thought we were making, and the personnel changes I thought needed to be made — and for more than 45 minutes Josh listened to me in his office, carefully, intently, asking questions and asking for clarifications. He seemingly had all the time in the world for me. There are other examples I could cite from my experience and from the experience of others. Scott seems to be that rare bird who kept those concerns suppressed, if he had them at all. And now, years later, he finally feels liberated to make arguments he didn’t appear to believe at the time.

Scott’s broader claim that “in some small way” his hope is to “move us beyond the destructive partisan warfare of the past 15 years” and that he wants to “contribute to [a] national conversation” about making our politics higher and better is not terribly persuasive. The same can be said about his complaints about his disdain for “the Washington game.” In fact, one of the oldest games in Washington is to turn against those in power who cared for you and gave you the greatest opportunity in your life to serve this nation — and to do so in a book, for which you received a hefty advance.

George W. Bush is an imperfect man, as are we all, and our administration certainly made mistakes over the course of two terms. Many of us, in fact, feel quite free to talk about them. But the president is, at his core, a decent and honorable man. His presidency will, I think, be judged much better by history than it is being judged right now, though of course much depends on how circumstances play out in Iraq and elsewhere (it’s puzzling that Scott seems to have turned against the war at a time when, thanks to the surge by the president and the leadership by General Petraeus and others on the ground, we’ve seen remarkable progress on almost every front and a good outcome in Iraq is achievable). But regardless of history’s verdict, what Scott McClellan has done — which is to both turn on the president and in the process to paint a false and misleading picture — is doubly dishonorable.

Scott claims he is on a journey to discover “his” truth. But what he has done is do injury to the truth. The vast majority of us who served in the White House and for President Bush are very glad and grateful we did — and we will always consider it to have been the professional honor of a lifetime.

— Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant to the president, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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