Sunday, July 26, 2009

What Happened

Notes for a Review of What Happened (Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception) by Scott McClellan

Hmm... It appears that "what happened" here was that I wrote up the following notes as I was reading the book, but then lost interest in doing a full review. The book was weak enough that isn't worth much effort, and I guess that is about as negative as a review can get? I definitely don't feel like rereading the book to refresh my memories, so I guess I'll just summarize the main impression that remains some months after reading the book: McClellan seems like a nice guy, but incredibly naive, and even though he was physically inside the White House at the time, either he was completely outside of the real discussions or he is a much better liar than I think he is. My main conclusion from reading the book was that he was just an innocent patsy, and that's why his version of the events became so hopeless tangled once he started noticing reality again.

Cheney's secret plot really to plant WMDs or evidence of an Al Qaeda link to Saddam?

Lots of missing topics and incidents.

Detailed notes as I read:

Page 14: Silly mistake of "legendary successor's expense" in reference to Sam Houston, his "predecessor", not "successor".

Page 58: Glaring counterfactual statement about the Florida recount. Gore did suggest a statewide recount. (Only to be expected that there was no mention anywhere in the book of the eventual recount.)

Page 116: His own muddled typology of lying: "Partisans in Washington have become very sophisticated in the ways they murk it up with partial truths, political spin, misrepresentations, distortion, and an overall lack of intellectual honesty." No acknowledgment of his involvement in any of these things, but I guess it hit me harder since Walter Cronkite had passed away a few days before.

Page 132: "He doesn't worry about acknowledging the holes in his case or the valid points against his own arguments." Basically trying to defend his own approach to his job, not noting that such a lawyer would be utterly incompetent and would be blindsided and destroyed every time he walked into a courtroom.

Page 162: The insertion "later determined to be unfounded" (about Dubya's speech with the infamous 16 words about uranium) is a major self-contradiction. Elsewhere in the book he's noted that the claim had been debunked and removed from a prior speech. However, this is mostly part of the larger self-contradiction of acknowledging the Dubya White House was a bubble while treating it like the universe. (Reminds me of the joke about the mathematician who puts the fence around himself and announces "I define myself as outside.")

Pages 165-6: 'the fact that a president "didn't know" may not be a meaningful defense'. I'm not sure why he tried to confuse the issue with the double quoted "didn't know", but I am sure that ignorance of the law is NO excuse.

Page 177: Hadley is offering to resign for "an honest mistake" is either a radical definition of "honest" or another example of delusional in-the-bubble thinking.

Page 179: The reference to "gotcha reporting" is another example of belittling or misrepresenting his opponents for the kind of spin he never acknowledged using.

Page 181: Dismissing Karl Rove's opponents as "partisan critics". I wonder what other basis Rove could possibly be evaluated on? Is there any non-partisan metric for Rove?

Page 191: He actually includes the dishonest or incompetent case analysis. However, on the next page he just dismisses it as an image problem, not a fundamental paradox of bad government.

Page 229: I was struck by his "we employed" where he vaguely acknowledges his own contribution to the "spin and evasion", though the main thrust of the book was how that wasn't his intention.

Page 238: Seems to be a self-contradiction with Dubya's "French Toast" joke, but maybe it was somehow funny in context. On it's face, it seems to be the only example of Dubya's humor and a contradiction to McClellan's claim that Dubya is actually a funny guy.

Pages 278-9: Defensive story of Dubya's guitar photo during the Katrina fiasco as a problem in public relations and a failure of the staff to protect Dubya from these sorts of things. Overall another good example of the internal contradiction of trying to portray Dubya as a responsible leader who crucially depends on his staff.