The selling out of the President

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has given new meaning to the word loyalty. Actually, the longtime Texas ally of George W. Bush has redefined it to stand for something entirely the opposite of Webster’s version.

At a time when it is more than acceptable to take a verbal crack at his increasingly unpopular former boss, McClellan, whose association with Bush predates his ascendancy to the presidency, has decided to join the rock throwers in an almost unconscionable example of self service, the promotion of a “now it can be told” book. One can only hope that when the money has been pocketed he disappears from public view with few friends, following Larry Speakes, former press secretary to Ronald Reagan, who fouled his own nest by writing a similar book about his boss for a few pieces of silver.

This is no defense of Bush, who will leave the nation next January far worse off than when his tenure began. Besides, he can defend himself against the historians who are bound to find a treasure trove in reviewing his eight years in office. This is merely an attempt to probe the psychology behind those who apparently only feign loyalty and are ready to abandon it at a moment’s notice, either to make money or excuse their own role or both, which seems to be McClellan’s case.

McClellan apparently was determined to be the first former White House insider to capitalize on that potential windfall, particularly if he was willing to make it look as though he also was a victim of the lies and deceit that led to the ill-advised invasion of Iraq and other lesser sins, including the involvement of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby in the unveiling of CIA operative Valerie Plame. As he innocently repeated the lies to the press corps, he said, his own character lay in a shambles. What character?

No one told McClellan that he should remain Bush’s press secretary throughout much of this ordeal, enjoying the perks and prestige and opportunities the job carries with it. He seems to fail to understand that if he felt the way he did, he should have resigned, as did Jerry terHorst over President Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon. And terHorst, a well-respected journalist long before he became a press secretary, never unloaded on Ford afterwards. That is the honest approach to these situations whether working for a public figure or a company whose policies one considers repugnant.

The rule of thumb in these matters is to first air your dislikes inside and if they are not heeded to step down and air them outside. From every indication, McClellan did not perform the prerequisite complaining while still press secretary, leaving on good terms with Bush when he brought in a new chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, who wanted his own team. The president had nothing but kind words for McClellan and the way he performed one of the more demanding jobs on his staff.

What makes McClellan’s action so detestable is the piling on aspect — the taking advantage of the public’s souring view of an administration he was a part of to line his own pockets. The press obviously loves this sort of disloyalty with all its juicy inside aspects. Certainly book publishers would kill for the opportunity to dish it to the press and the public, the more scathing the better. TV personality Barbara Walters recently sent her publishers’ cash register into a frenzy with a book that makes her look far less than a virtuous woman. Only she knows why. Those whose character she also impugned probably also want to know.

In doing what he has, McClellan was urinating on himself as much as the president and if any past examples are valid, he is in for a long, if not forever, cold shoulder from those he called friends, colleagues and allies. Whether it will be worthwhile for him remains to be seen. Perhaps he should renew his relationship with his father, who was a leading advocate of the theory that Lyndon Johnson was a key figure in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The apple seems not to have fallen far from the tree when it comes to the lack of political judgment.

Webster defines loyalty as “Faithfulness or faithful adherence to a person, government, cause or duty.” There are limits, of course, but McClellan gave no prior indication that he had reached his, the worse for him.

(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)