Sunday, June 01, 2008

Frank Rich: McCain’s McClellan Nightmare

THEY thought they were being so slick. When the McCain campaign abruptly moved last Tuesday’s fund-raiser with President Bush from the Phoenix Convention Center to a private home, it was the next best thing to sending the loathed lame duck into the witness protection program. John McCain and Mr. Bush were caught on camera together for a mere 26 seconds, and at 9 p.m. Eastern time, safely after the networks’ evening newscasts. The two men’s furtive encounter on the Phoenix airport tarmac, as captured by a shaky, inaudible long shot on, could have been culled from a surveillance video.

But for the McCain campaign, any “Mission Accomplished” high-fives had to be put on hold. That same evening broke the news of Scott McClellan’s memoir, and it was soon All Bush All the Time in the mediasphere. Or more to the point: All Iraq All the Time, for the deceitful origins of the war in Iraq are the major focus of the former press secretary’s tell-all.

There is no news in his book, hardly the first to charge that the White House used propaganda to sell its war and that the so-called liberal media were “complicit enablers” of the con job. The blowback by the last Bush defenders is also déjà vu. The claims that Mr. McClellan was “disgruntled,” “out of the loop,” two-faced, and a “sad” head case are identical to those leveled by Bush operatives (including Mr. McClellan) at past administration deserters like Paul O’Neill, Richard Clarke, John DiIulio and Matthew Dowd.

So why the fuss? Mr. McClellan isn’t a sizzling TV personality, or, before now, a household name beyond the Beltway. His book secured no major prepublication media send-off on “60 Minutes” or a newsmagazine cover. But if the tale of how the White House ginned up the war is an old story, the big new news is how ferocious a hold this familiar tale still exerts on the public all these years later. We have not moved on.

Americans don’t like being lied to by their leaders, especially if there are casualties involved and especially if there’s no accountability. We view it as a crime story, and we won’t be satisfied until there’s a resolution...[Open in new window]


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