Et Tu, Scott?

Posted: Jun 03, 2008 12:01 AM
Et Tu, Scott?

Frankly, some American with minimal regard for political correctness should consider chasing the so-and-so down the street, cracking an instrument of encouragement associated with Indiana Jones, crying: "Outta here, you bum! And don't come back!"

I speak in deliberately old-fashioned cadences regarding the deserts of a decidedly new-fashioned public figure, namely, Scott McClellan, who is, as you know, the onetime press secretary to President Bush. McClellan, a Texan, I am sad to note, being a Texan myself, has distinguished himself -- or something -- for beating up on his former boss in a new book.

I mention the aforesaid so-and-so not to wrestle with his contentions, which, who knows, may have elements of insight. I mention him in order to say, good Lord almighty, whatever happened to honor, whatever happened to the civilized practice of declining to stab your benefactor in the back the moment that portion of his anatomy presents itself? Et tu, Scott?

I think it entirely possible, reflecting on Scott McClellan, retired press secretary, greedy seeker of public notice, to imagine modern society afflicted by far worse things than unpopular foreign wars. By the habit of personal treason, let's say.

Here's a guy who wouldn't have a book out at all but for the decision of his longtime friend and patron George W. Bush to put him forth as administration spokesman, thus bringing him to public notice and recognition. Oh, well. A publisher waves a roll of bills in his face, and Scott McClellan discovers he had been all along peddling nonsense and deception about Iraq. And about the Valerie Plame affair, need we drag that old chestnut once more into view?

Correspondingly, Scott McClellan feels the need to babble in print and on television, just when -- as he would certainly know -- Iraq policy remains an issue crucial to the presidential campaign and our national life.

I don't believe a single one of us wishes to trammel Scott McClellan's free speech rights -- to insist he can't babble. The point lies elsewhere besides the mouth -- namely, the soul. And not just the soul of Scott McClellan, hardly a large enough figure to typify the spiritual crisis of which he is a conspicuous part.

Stabbing a patron in the back for money isn't precisely new. Macbeth, for one, did it with less transparency but higher hopes than our boy Scott. There was a certain grandeur in Macbeth's aspirations. He wanted to be king -- or anyway, Lady M. wanted it for him. McClellan wanted ... what? Higher fees on the speaking circuit? The settlement of old scores? Possibly the burnishing of a reputation he felt tarnished by his tour as a front man?

We don't even aim as high these days as we used to.

We settle for a little TV time in return for personal abasement. That's no very happy exchange. A backstabber who aims no higher than did Scott McClellan lacks, well, imagination. He reminds us, at all events, of the durability of temptation and the need for moral fences to keep it out.

Loyalty isn't the chief of virtues -- disgraced as it's been by, say, the inhabitants of the Fuehrerbunker in Berlin, April 1945. Still, loyalty has its place, as facilitating trust and blocking fulfillment of the gospel of Every Man for Himself. To accept public honor and emolument is to acquire an obligation -- to behave one's self with honor.

Honor, in Scott McClellan's case, could have been served -- maybe it was -- by resignation the moment he lost trust. Honor, in Scott McClellan's case, conspicuously wasn't served by writing a book entrenching the same weary arguments his former boss's critics have worn into the public consciousness: We shouldn't have gone in there! We messed up! Bush lied, men died! Just what we need to hear again.

This, too, shall pass, as will eventually -- let us hope -- memory of backstabbing Scott McClellan. But Indiana Jones -- where's that guy now that we really need him?!