Scott McClellan should have only been a small blip in American history. As of last week, his name will be mentioned along with Woodward and Bernstein, attached to the final downfall of a president. It does not matter if McClellan’s book “What Happened” is the truth or a lie. His story, his truth and, depending how the pundits spin McClellan’s truth, may remove the last safety blocks from under the Bush legacy. It may not be a threatened impeachment, but it is close. It is the loss of trust in our president.
It does not matter if McClellan knew what his boss was doing at the time or whether the president’s actions were purposeful. That allegations were made is enough that operatives from both sides of the aisle have created both a hero and a villain in one man, depending with whom you speak.
There is a secondary story here that seems to have gone by the wayside, even on the Sunday morning talking head shows. McClellan, as you and I, is human, and we humans are allowed to change our minds when reality slaps us up the side of the head. There is no rule, no law, nothing in writing anywhere that says that politicians, even press secretaries, are not human, that they cannot change their minds.
Working in the White House is magical and intoxicating. It is hard to disagree when sitting in the same room as the most powerful men on the planet. Yet McClellan had a change of heart and personal morals when, as he claims, he discovered and finally accepted that the president and the presidential advisors lied to him. They lied about the war in Iraq. They lied about weapons of mass destruction. They lied about outing a CIA agent. Bold face lies. McClellan, willing or not, became part of those lies. McClellan’s words, his book, are his response, his cleansing and his confession.
“What Happened” begins with a well-known and worn story. Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV was critical of the war in Iraq and said so very publicly. His comments angered the president and his henchmen. The newest incarnation of “The Plumbers” took it upon themselves, with or without the authority of the president, to punish the ambassador.
The ambassador’s wife, Valerie Plame, was the target and was exposed as a CIA operative. The leak, in fact, was attributed to Elliott Abrams, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. Abrams and Libby were thrown to the wolves. Rove and Cheney survived — though Cheney’s role is again being investigated. The president hid in the West Wing.
Ah, memories of the Nixon administration, the paranoia of the president in 1972 and Nixon’s downfall and departure from the White House in 1974. Paranoia seems to be prevalent among many of the extreme right and left. A hundred years from now, historians will examine the George W. Bush administration and discover another paranoid leader, and McClellan’s book will be used as prime evidence.
The White House is claiming that McClellan is only a disgruntled ex-employee, angry because he was “fired.” McClellan says he changed his mind based on his new “truth.” Should we believe that politicians, especially those who work in the White House, are superhuman and do not change political positions? We, each one of us, have had a change of mind, of personal morals and beliefs, based on new truths. Should we all be scorned forever?
Ten years ago, I learned a political life lesson. Political slings and arrows only hurt for a little while. Yet through it all, trust prevails. As long as you are trusted by those who are close and important to you, the pain is only temporary. McClellan has the trust; the current administration does not.
McClellan should take to heart the words of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys: “I’m very much alive; I still got the jive to survive with the heroes and villains.” After all, it is only politics versus personal morality.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. His Web site is DavidRosman.com. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.