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What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception Hardcover – May 28, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Some listeners may get to the end of this audiobook and still be asking "What happened?" for even in his own words, McClellan's book appears either woefully naïve to the point of negligence or a continuance of spin and lying (or has he says, "shading"). As he traces his early years working with Bush in the Texas government through his tenure as White House press secretary, McClellan continues to applaud Bush with only a mild dash of criticism while laying much of the blame for Bush's poor decisions upon the "permanent campaign" political culture of Washington. Hailing from the party of "personal responsibility," this approach seems awkward at best. Even when he identifies the administration as a group of "well intentioned but flawed people," he still shies away from making strong and definitive statements. Predominantly hovering around his experience and problems as press secretary at the height of the Valerie Plame incident, McClellan's analysis and reporting of the Bush administration doesn't forge any new ground. As narrator, he manages well enough in a matter of fact tone with moderate inflection, minimally hindered with background noises and some stumbling or mispronunciations. However, on occasion, he does execute a good Bush impersonation. A Public Affairs hardcover.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"The former press secretary of President Bush (No. 43 version) empties out his notebooks, and all of Washington will be holding its breath." -- Seattle Times, March 16, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
I love political memoirs from both parties. This one kept my attention because I remember Scott McClellan when he served as President George W. Bush's press secretary. After working almost 24/7 for a few years, he left the job with hurt feelings and wrote this book with a tinge of revenge. He also wrote it to help pay his attorney fees, I believe.
After carefully reading the usual memoir of his childhood,his venture into Texas politics encouraged by his activist mother, friendship with both Bush families, helping in campaigns for Republicans, and being rewarded with a job in the White House in the press secretary's office, I was impressed and it was obvious Scott felt he had forged a close friendship with George W. Bush, especially, and that Scott was ambitious. He writes of his Christian faith, his travels on Air Force One, and plenty of inside knowledge. He makes some excellent points as he observed the many challenges during the Bush term.
His problem, after he became press secretary when Ari Fleishner left, was feeling "out of the loop". Karl Rove, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. did not seem to recognize Scott's intelligence and importance. The "culture of deception" appears to be twofold - the Iraq war, and the outing of the CIA agent bothered Scott, as well as the long hours trying to appease the press and convince them he didn't have all the answers. I felt sympathy for him as he had to appear before a grand jury. Surely the Plame affair was ridiculous and should have been taken care of immediately. Scott laments that he was clueless.
The last chapters contain his views on how government should be run and they are interesting. Does anyone care? Will a president ever give the press conferences instead of hiring someone to speak to the press for him? Scott makes excellent points.
At first I wondered why Scott didn't just leave the job after two years of relentless quizzing by the press and feeling he wasn't being given enough information from the president and the cabinet. I wonder how he feels now, about dissing the Bush administration and writing his "truth" to power. He could not possibly have known everything behind all the decisions made by the president and now Bush has written his own memoir in which he gives reasons for his decisions.
I've read memoirs by various press secretaries in other administrations. They all have a thankless job. This book is different - Scott McClellan makes sense and also writes nonsense. A good read to compare with other memoirs as more are being published about the two term George W. Bush administration.
It was no surprise that this book was ruthlessly attacked by those within and close to the Bush administration. The book was mostly characterised as an angry response by a bitter former employee. At first, this actually made some sense to me. But then I thought about the interviews that McClellan had given around the time he resigned from his post. At that time, he seemed like a loyal Bushie who had simply reached burnout. So why would he change his tune a year or so later?
The reasoning became more apparent when I read the preface to "What Happened." According to the author, it wasn't until he began the process of reflection that the writing of a memoir requires that he began to formulate the views he chose to include in the book. This felt honest to me so, I decided to plunge in and see what he had to say.
The crux of this book, which I think is being left out of much of the discussion surrounding it, is the concept of the "permanent campaign" and it's negative effects on our government, society and citizens. McClellan recounts his political career prior to the White House and his years in the Bush administration from the perspective that we have gone horribly wrong in our approach to government. By treating every issue as if it were a campaign and making governing decisions entirely based on the way they will play to a particular political base, we have lost sight of the true function of government.
Although his writing isn't always as eloquent as I'd like it to be, I think Scott McClellan makes some very important points in this book. There are a lot of voices shouting for the end of bipartisanship and the removal of money from politics but, McClellan speaks to these issues with a unique inside viewpoint that gives his message and it's ability to add to the dialogue an added resonance. The fact that McClellan is, for the most part, a political conservative, helps to enforce his point that the "permanent campaign" reaches far beyond ideas of liberal or conservative, republican or democrat. It is, to steal a phrase from the Nixon era, a cancer on the heart of our political system.