Paul Greenberg

Doesn't anybody in Washington know how to resign any more? That question arises in the muddy wake of the 15 minutes of infamy Scott McClellan has assured himself by hawking a tell-more-than-all book about why he stepped down (or was pushed out) as George W. Bush's press secretary.

It is not a pretty story, and it may reflect poorest on the teller.

For if Mr. McClellan really thought he was participating in a conspiracy to mislead the American people, why didn't he just submit his resignation and walk away? That would have been the honorable thing.

Instead, he stuck around and kept enjoying the pay and perks and whatever brittle status the presidential hack-in-chief has in our style-over-substance culture. He only left when he had to after the customary exchange of forced smiles and mutual expressions of feigned affection. There's something clean about a simple resignation that this kind of charade can't match.

But in a way his book is only half a betrayal; the other half is almost a defense against the accusation of Warmonger that has been used against presidents going back at least to FDR. Because while accusing the administration of rushing to war on false pretenses, he also says he doesn't believe this president "or his White House deliberately or consciously sought to deceive the American people."

Goodness, Mr. McClellan, make up your treacherous mind. If you're going to betray your old boss, then betray him. Don't just prance around the point. Brutus & Co., an old Italian firm made famous by an English playwright of some note, didn't just tickle Caesar with their daggers; they struck deep, time and again, with fatal effect. Honorable men, all honorable men, Mark Antony called them with scathing scorn.

Mr. McClellan just wavers. His brief for/against the Bush White House is as vague as his press conferences used to be. Undecided between being brazen and indecisive, he seems to have settled for both.

What should he have done if his putative conscience was offended by what he was being asked to do in high office? An example is available, though naturally it is forgotten in these times when superficial Success is all. Once upon a long-ago time - Gerald Ford's - there was a presidential press secretary named Jerry terHorst, an old friend of the Michigan congressman who suddenly found himself president amid the tumult called Watergate.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.