Saturday, May 31, 2008

MAUREEN DOWD: Cult of Deception


They say that every president gets the psychoanalyst he deserves. And every Hamlet gets his Rosencrantz.

So now comes Scott McClellan, once the most loyal of the Texas Bushies, to reveal “What Happened,” as the title of his book promises, to turn W. from a genial, humble, bipartisan good ol’ boy to a delusional, disconnected, arrogant, ideological flop.

Although his analytical skills are extremely limited, the former White House press secretary — Secret Service code name Matrix — takes a stab at illuminating Junior’s bumpy and improbable boomerang journey from family black sheep and famous screw-up back to family black sheep and famous screw-up.

How did W. start out wanting to restore honor and dignity to the White House and end up scraping all the honor and dignity off the White House?

It turns out that our president is a one-man refutation of Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller “Blink,” about the value of trusting your gut.

Every gut instinct he had was wildly off the mark and hideously damaging to all concerned.

It seems that if you trust your gut without ever feeding your gut any facts or news or contrary opinions, if you keep your gut on a steady diet of grandiosity, ignorance, sycophants, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, those snap decisions can be ruinous.

We already know What Happened, but it feels good to hear Scott say it. His conscience was spurred by hurt feelings.

In Washington, it is rarely the geopolitical or human consequences that cause people to turn on leaders behaving immorally. The town is far more narcissistic and practical than that.

The people who should be sounding the alarm for democracy’s sake, and the sake of all the young Americans losing lives and limbs, get truly outraged only when they are played for fools and fall guys, when their own reputations are at stake.

It was not the fake casus belli that made Colin Powell’s blood boil. What really got Powell disgusted was that W. and Dick Cheney used him, tapping into his credibility to sell their trumped-up war; that George Tenet failed to help him scrub his U.N. speech of all Cheney’s garbage; and that W. showed him the door so the more malleable Condi could have his job.

Tenet was privately worried about a war buildup not backed up by C.I.A. facts, but he only publicly sounded the alarm years later in a lucrative memoir fueled by payback, after Condi and Cheney tried to cast him as the fall guy on W.M.D.

McClellan did not realize the value of a favorite maxim — “The truth shall set you free” — until he was hung out to dry by his bosses in the Valerie Plame affair, repeating the lies Karl Rove and Scooter Libby brazenly told him about not being the leakers.

“Clearly,” McClellan says, sounding like the breast-heaving heroine of a Victorian romance, “I had allowed myself to be deceived.” He felt “something fall out of me into the abyss.”

And that was even before “the breaking point,” when he learned the worst about his idol — that the president who had denounced leaks about his warrantless surveillance program, who had promised to fire anyone leaking classified information about Plame, was himself the one who authorized Dick Cheney to let Scooter leak part of the top-secret National Intelligence Estimate.

“Yeah, I did,” Mr. Bush told his sap of a press secretary on Air Force One. His tone, the stunned McClellan said, was “as if discussing something no more important than a baseball score.”

He recalled the first time that he had begun to suspect that W. might be just another dissembling pol: when he overheard his boss, during his 2000 bid, ludicrously telling a supporter that he couldn’t remember, from his wild partying days, if he had tried cocaine.

“He isn’t the kind of person to flat-out lie,” McClellan said, but added, “I was witnessing Bush convincing himself to believe something that probably was not true.” He’d see a lot more of it over the next six years before Bush tearfully booted him out.

W.’s dwindling cadre hit back hard. In Stockholm, Condi — labeled “sometimes too accommodating” by the author — scoffed: “The president was very clear about the reasons for going to war.”

She’s right. He was very clear about it being because of W.M.D. Then he was very clear about it being to rid the world of a tyrant. Then he was very clear about it being to spread democracy. When that didn’t work out, he was very clear about it being that we can’t leave because we can’t leave.

He was always wrong, but always very clear.

No comments: