Hillary Clinton could learn something from Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary who bit the hand that stopped feeding him.
McClellan came to Washington as a close aide to President George W. Bush and became his chief spokesman until a new chief of staff ushered McClellan out the door, basically suggesting he was ineffective.
McClellan, whose brother once ran Medicare and the Food and Drug Administration for the Bush administration, believed whatever the manipulative Karl Rove, Dan Bartlett, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney et al, told him. Whether it was phony reasons why the war in Iraq was necessary or phony denials about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, McClellan passed along information to the press that turned out to be either untrue or was, in his word, “propaganda.”
Now McClellan has written a book excoriating the current White House and accusing the administration of shading the truth, not being forthright about the reasons for invading Iraq and lying about the involvement of top White House officials in the CIA leak scandal. The book is big news because McClellan was the last person most reporters would have expected to provide scathing criticism of his former colleagues and because he is the first long-term loyalist in the administration to defect in print.
Bush, in effect, has disowned McClellan, saying this is not the person he hired and worked with while other officials are less subtle, calling McClellan such names as “traitor,” a “disgruntled” ex-employee who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
McClellan said he wrote the book to clarify the record and because he promised reporters he would someday tell them “what happened,” which is the first part of the title of his book before “Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.”
The lesson for Hillary Clinton is that McClellan is now a Republican pariah. There won’t even be an official book party for him, usually de rigueur in Washington.
Hillary’s amazing adventure in pursuing the presidency will be over in a few days. A lot of Democrats are all but holding their breath to see how she will exit.
Insiders are speculating just as everyone else is. Some say she still wants to take her hopeless cause to the August convention in Denver. Others insist she is deciding how to leave the race with dignity and will leave quickly. Some say she is bitter and furious with Barack Obama and in no mood to campaign for him, convinced she’d be the better candidate against John McCain in the general election. Others say that she will fight hard to elect Obama and other Democrats this November.
Most top Democrats, who had once hoped to serve in a Clinton administration next January, pray she will leave quickly and gracefully and will work tirelessly for Obama. (Some of them still might get jobs if he wins. She might get a post such as secretary of state.)
They also think that if she leaves with graciousness and optimism and no bitterness, she’ll have a chance to run again in 2012 if McCain wins.
Many want her to become a major player in the Senate, possibly run for majority leader, raise money for her party and help other women run for office as well as become a senior statesman in the Democratic Party.
Only the most avid Republicans want her to complain, seek retribution, act bitter or hide. No more criticism of Obama and no more books, at least for a while.
Most supporters do not want her to pull a Scott McClellan or a George Stephanopoulos. He was another angry White House press secretary who wrote his tattletale book, “All Too Human,” about the Clinton administration’s scandals. Stephanopoulos said having Hillary run health care was a mistake because her plan was like she was, “inflexible, overly complex and highly susceptible to misinterpretation.”
With friends like that….
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at) nationalpress.com.)