"What happened", the Bush administration, and what's next

January 25, 2009

The US has a new president. Many people say “about time”. It definitely is the end of one era and beginning of a next one.

I thought it would be a fitting end to the Bush era to read Scott McClellan’s “What Happened” (Wikipedia, Amazon, publisher). I had it for a while now and started a while ago, and intended to finish it before last November’s election. Which became this January’s inauguration. But hey, I’m done with it now.

I was interested in this book for many reasons. First, a lot of my past and maybe future work revolves around communications, and it’s interesting to read the work of someone who has done it at the highest governmental level possible in the modern world. Also, this book discusses the dynamics behind many political decisions and the way they shaped one another and were communicated, from the author’s perspective. Politics is a dynamic that is always present in governments, companies, and just about any human organization. It’s not a substitute for getting real work done, but it may helpful to understand how politics happens – especially given that the book claims that it was the era of “permanent campaign” during both Clinton and Bush, and campaigning often WAS the substitute for providing real value to people.

McClellan says that the intentions of Bush were noble and he did not knowingly deceive or betray the world, but he just had a distorted perspective on things and was not able to listen or take advice when he should have done so. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

The book is mostly about how Iraq war started and was communicated, and how the Plame affair was related to the grand scheme of things. McClellan talks about the affair because senior Bush officials (Rove and Libby) knowingly told him false information and made him unknowingly lie to the press. Sad. And telling about the ethics of the administration.

It’s also interesting how the administration commented on the book after it came out. They didn’t try to dispute any facts; instead, they said about the author:

“Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House. We are puzzled. It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew.”

Argumentum ad hominem, anybody?

I don’t have full confidence that in the US there won’t be more of the “same old”. The new administration deserves the benefit of doubt, and the new president is a good public speaker. Whether they get things done, and what things, is too early to tell. I hope the current administrators and press secretaries won’t have to write similar damning books.