Jonah Goldberg
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Longstanding Bush critics like McClellan's use of the "P" word because they think it proves they were right all along: that "Bush lied and people died," as that shopworn refrain goes.

The problem is that's not quite what McClellan seems to be saying. "I still like and admire George W. Bush," McClellan writes in his memoirs. "I consider him a fundamentally decent person, and I do not believe he or his White House deliberately or consciously sought to deceive the American people. But he and his advisors confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war."

McClellan's only legitimate beef seems to be his unjust treatment during the Valerie Plame investigation. But that complaint doesn't sell books or get the sluices of journalistic saliva raging. Use of the word "propaganda" and charges of dishonesty about the war do, which is why he uses them. But McClellan concedes in interviews that even when he was an important cog in the "propaganda machine," he never witnessed anything that seemed at the time to be deceitful or untrue.

Rather, he says that his views have "evolved." This is one debate over evolution where intelligent design seems to have the upper hand. The prime mover of McClellan's evolving views was almost surely his need to move books.

This all bespeaks a level of sophistication few ever credited McClellan with when he stood at the podium looking like a McDonald's cashier flummoxed by an order. He's hawking books by making people think he's charging the Bush administration with wholesale dishonesty when he's not even making that case at the retail level. He's claiming the role of insider with behind-the-scenes insights, but he admits it never occurred to him that there was any dishonesty at work until he left the White House and began ruminating on what he could put in his book.

If only he'd been this good at working the press when it was for someone's benefit other than his own.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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