When they invited him to join the campaign, it was almost a matter of necessity. Scott McClellan seemed a perfect choice. He was marginally innocuous, and perceived, as was the future president, to not be much of an extemporaneous thinker or speaker. Scott was perfect for the delivery of messages. The plan was to limit the number of meetings he attended and give him only the information he needed to placate reporters. He had already done this kind of work with a state officeholder and in earlier Texas campaigns.
Scott's role, when he went to work for the Bush presidential campaign in Austin, was to keep reporters away from Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Joe Allbaugh, Dan Bartlett and anyone else who might know the actual inner workings. Persistent reporters, working on difficult deadlines but constantly told no by the inner circle of advisers, ultimately, had to settle for talking to Scott McClellan.
And it was frustrating.
I interviewed him dozens of times and discovered that never has anyone said so little with so many words. He was the master of the declarative sentence that declared nothing. Obviously, he knew nothing. His job was to know nothing but sound like he knew much. The Karl and Karen show loved having Scott handle all the reporters of lesser publications and broadcasts. Generally, he was kept away from the national media because people like Rove and Hughes and Allbaugh and Bartlett needed that exposure to build their own narratives.
Scott handled his tasks exceedingly well in Austin and beyond and his ability to obfuscate made him the perfect candidate to be the White House spokesperson. Regardless of how the Bush administration is presently denouncing McClellan, they found him to be ideal as a communications tool. There was something imminently believable about his frumpy style and his unblinking trust in the people for whom he worked. He was given his talking points and did not stray from them because he had no idea where he might wander.
But the Bush team misjudged Scott McClellan as badly as they have misjudged everything. While they were brandishing about Mr. Bush's pedigree as proof he had the credentials to be president, they were busily ignoring the background of people like McClellan. He was considerably more than a loyal, empty vessel skilled at pouring out well-chosen words.
His grandfather, Paige Keeton, was the dean of the University of Texas Law School and once had the vision to write to George H. W. Bush that he was "sure there was a place in the world for young George Bush but the UT law school was not that place." Scott's mother, when I met her for the first time in 1979, was the Democratic mayor of the progressive city of Austin. Although her political ambitions led her astray and caused two further changes of party to run for other statewide offices, no one has ever said she was anything other than of rigorous intellect and determination. The same was said of Scott's father, Barr McClellan, who has written two controversial books and was an attorney for the National Labor Relations Board and the Federal Power Commission, serving under LBJ. Scott's brother Mark was a commissioner on the Food and Drug Administration and a member of Bush's council of economic advisers.
Not a bad gene pool for someone the Bush team did not expect to think independently
McClellan was, frankly, too smart to be used for too long. And he knew he was being used. Scott was complicit in all of the disinformation provided to the American public. While he may try to characterize his experience as a transformation, those who know him have a difficult time believing he was oblivious to the lies he was garnishing with rhetoric. He was probably not involved in many of the important meetings where messages were developed to build the political case but he knew who was in those gatherings and could reach his own conclusions.
And now he is harvesting the anger of the right for speaking the truth, finally.
Robert Novak is haranguing Scott for a mis-characterization of the Plame leak story and not acknowledging that the source for Novak's original piece was Richard Armitage. Neither McClellan, nor anyone else, however, has denied that part of the report. What Scott has suggested, and others, including myself and Wayne Slater have reported, was that it is not likely Armitage acted independently. Evidence and past behavior indicates the plan was likely hatched by Rove, and Armitage, who had separation from the administration but was a true believer with the right background and connections, would be a perfect person to launch the story. Rove has executed such ministrations perfectly in Texas and elsewhere. Besides, even if Rove were not involved in the leak's promulgation, McClellan was witness to Rove and Libby going behind closed doors to talk while they were under federal investigation. To suggest this was daily political chit chat, as Rove has done, is insulting.
Scott McClellan has finally served his country. And well. If only his conscience had reared its little head a few years earlier.