With the US lacking any guaranteed means by which the President can be made accountable to the legislature – short of impeachment – there’s only one real question to ask about former White House insider Scott McClellan’s bluntly-titled tell-all, What Happened – and that is, will it hurt John McCain?

That it hurts Bush is not in question – it just doesn’t matter. McClellan was press secretary during the first few years of the Bush administration. You’ll remember him as the stocky, sweaty bloke gripping the lectern, always looking like the gang leader’s dumb kid brother taking the fall for the heist. He had the unusual ability to appear as if his head had been photoshopped onto his body, even when he was directly present. Heaven was missing a stooge. I’m not saying he was stu-…anyway I’m here all week folks.

For years McClellan’s role was to be the front-end of Team Bush’s inexhaustible contempt for the press and the public – yet the odd thing was he lacked the gusto with which Bush’s tame media hacks, such as Fox’s Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, could sell anything, getting a buzz from the thrill of lying.

McClellan by contrast always looked like the passenger who has to fly the 747 after the pilot’s had a heart attack. His pores currently supply 40% of the drinking water for Delaware. You could run a car on what you could scrape off him. You folks from out of town? Try the fish.

Consequently, viewers always wondered whether he was simply a loyalist stonewalling, or was deeply conflicted about his position, or dumber than mulch. They’re still wondering, but if it was loyalism, it’s gone now. What Happened is the most excoriating of all the tell-alls to come from the white house to date, all the more surprising for Team Bush for coming from a Texas insider, McClellan apparently the idiot son of a grand family intertwined with the Bushes in running the joint like a personal fiefdom.

It was known and accepted that McClellan was working on a memoir, and that it would require a bit of juice to liven up sales, but the total excoriation of the Bush project has taken people by surprise. How did he get away with selling such blatant untruths? Quote:

In the fall of 2002, Bush and his White House were engaging in a carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval to our advantage. We’d done much the same on other issues — tax cuts and education — to great success. But war with Iraq was different. Beyond the irreversible human costs and the substantial financial price, the decision to go to war and the way we went about selling it would ultimately lead to increased polarization and intensified partisan warfare. Our lack of candor and honesty in making the case for war would later provoke a partisan response from our opponents that, in its own way, further distorted and obscured a more nuanced reality. Another cycle of deception would cloud the public’s ability to see larger, underlying important truths that are critical to understand in order to avoid the same problems in the future.

And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. … the media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding.

Which, you could say, is pretty frikking rich for a press secretary to point out.

On the other hand, who would better know that it were being done? There is much, much more, especially about the deliberate manner in which the White House went about skewering CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband for the latter’s failure to find, or lie about, Iraqi attempts to buy yellow-cake in Africa, etc.

But that’s all been canvassed before. Why is McClellan’s book sending such shockwaves? The simplest explanation is that you have a real problem in refuting a rogue press secretary when the usual method of doing such is to send out…a press secretary to do the job, inherently undermining your denunication of a former press secretary.

Tied up in that is the effusive praise in which Bush coated McClellan when he left the job, going into flights of fancy about the two of them sitting on a porch in Texas in rocking chairs. It looked like bullshit then, but now we know it was, adding to the picture of Bush as lying and evil, the added note of being easily fooled by a damp handshake and absence of neck. They won’t be rocking together on no porch unless one has made a chair from the other’s bones.

Were the Democrats of a mind, the book would make an impeachment attempt well plausible. They wouldn’t try because, what’s the point – the impeachment device was established in the early days, when the vice-president was whoever got the second greatest number of votes. Get impeached and convicted, and your opponent became President. Get impeached today and Cheney does.

So Bush is out of the equation. But how does the further trashing of the Iraq war casus belli affect McCain? Though he has managed to achieve some separation between ‘his’ Iraq war, and team Bush’s – his being an invasion which should have had three times the troops and an occupation plan – that has only been by keeping things rigorously focused on operational matters, putting the actual motives of the war back into the mists of time. Everytime the matter is raised again, the work has to be done over.

McClellan’s book – or the extracts I’ve read online — is no better or worse than half a dozen denunciations of the Bush era, but they’re both coming from inside and, as new press secretary Ari Fleischer said, they sound like a ‘left wing blogger’. Fleischer can’t imagine a worse term of abuse. The public might conclude that if ex-members of Team Bush sound Daily Kos, Daily Kos might have a point.

McClellan has gone to ground until the book’s official release, harder to find than Hillary Clinton, now officially disappeared. Meanwhile McCain is goading Obama about never visiting Iraq, to which I presume Obama will reply by pointing out McCain’s notorious visit to a ‘safe’ marketplace – just him, 200m troops and some tanks. McCain ally Joe Lieberman who is, well not a Presbyterian, is speaking on a platform with Jim Hagee, the pastor who believes that Jews don’t have souls, to no protest at all. And Dunkin Donuts has pulled an ad because one of the women in it was wearing a paisleyish scarf that looked like an Arab keffiyeh.

How did McClellan get away with selling all those lies? How indeed.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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