Has McClellan Handed Victory to Obama?

Shock and awe envelop Washington upon the publication of a political memoir. The shock has nothing to do with the contents of What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, which do little more than confirm the obvious about the demi-truths, distortions and lies of omission that prefaced the invasion of Iraq. What inspires the awe is that Scott McClellan, the author, was the ultra-loyal press secretary to George Bush.

What we have here, would you believe, is a one-time leading spin doctor yielding to an attack of frenzied honesty. All American trends swiftly cross the Atlantic, so let's look forward with glee to Alastair Campbell producing the most dizzying literary volte face since Leonard Nimoy deftly followed I Am Not Spock! with a second autobiography (I Am Spock!).

Mr McClellan's portrait of President Bush, an old and beloved Texas chum, will be spookily familiar to close students of Ali's ex-boss. Mr Bush was less an out-and-out teller of whoppers, he explains, than an arrogant, self-deceiving fantasist. He believed things to be true because he wanted them to be true and kept insisting they were true, and no reasonable doubt or hard evidence could touch his certainty. Small wonder that he and Mr Tony Blair hit it off so splendidly at that very first Camp David date, when Blair squeezed his gonads into those hideous jeans. Psychologically, they are identical twins.

The psychology behind Mr McClellan's bean-spilling is the source of much discussion in the States. You can hardly avoid asking why he didn't mention any of this five years ago, and inevitably he trots out the defence that didn't quite cut it at Nuremberg. He was only obeying orders, but now this devout Christian (who'd have guessed?) wishes to cleanse his soul of the untruths he obediently spouted about WMD, the betrayal of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, and much else besides. Those on the wrong end of his reflections, such as that indescribably poisonous political puff adder Karl Rove, naturally characterise him as a money-grubber seeking revenge for being sacked.

To be frank, Mr McClellan's motivations are of no more interest than his judgement that the war was a grotesque strategic blunder (ya think?), let alone yet more angry debate about the propaganda that preceded it. More intriguing is the effect his book might have on the imminent fight for the presidency.

In the early hours of next Wednesday, when the results from the last two primaries come in, Barack Obama will have a majority of all delegates, pledged and super, and will be declared the winner. Who knows whether Hillary will concede or continue her maniacal charge -- "c'est horrifique," as Marshall Canrobert didn't quite put it, "mais ce n'est pas la guerre" -- to have the disqualified delegates from Florida and Michigan reinstated. Either way, America and the world beyond will wake to "Obama vs McCain: Let Battle Commence" front pages, and further resistance from the Hillbillies will be ignored for what it is ... the futile screechings of the mad aunt and uncle in the Democratic attic.

Allow me to apply now for a teasing paragraph in a November Private Eye by stating that I am sure Obama will be the next President. I have been (mostly, alas, due to wishful thinking: I make no bones about being an Obamaniac) since before he announced his candidacy. But now I'm convinced he will win by a landslide -- not a British-style landslide, whereby an overwhelming parliamentary majority can be won with about 40 per cent of the votes, but by the 55-45 per cent margin that constitutes an American one.

There are several reasons for this wild overconfidence. Somehow, despite being a quarter of a century the younger, Obama is incomparably more presidential than John McCain. Already, despite all his troubles (the Rev Wright, dodgy Chicago connections, Michelle's carelessly unpatriotic words, his own candid thoughts on small town guns 'n' God bitterness, Hillary's relentless efforts to diminish him), he is level or leads in most polls.

The second the nomination is settled, Obama will receive a massive popularity boost just as enquiring eyes turn to Mr McCain, an oddly flaky, gaffe-prone figure whose knack for confusing Iraq with Iran and Sunni with Shia isn't brilliantly designed to reinforce his self-proclaimed foreign policy advantage, but has been largely overlooked in all the Hillary-Obama drama. The media might even dwell more ferociously on the former spiritual adviser of his own who said that Hitler did God's work by propelling the Jews towards the Promised Land ... an ironic echo of Martin Luther King that won't play so well with the crucial Jewish vote in Florida. As that legendarily prescient political tipster Rupert Murdoch observed this week when tipping Obama to win, Mr McCain "has a lot of problems".

The real killer for the Senator from Arizona, however, will surely be the incumbent. To have any chance of becoming the 44th President, Mr McCain must find a way to distance himself from the 43rd. Given his support for 95 per cent of Bush proposals in the Senate and the lack of economic policy distinction between the two, this was never going to be easy. Now it's a great deal harder.

Where Mr McClellan's book is a potential nightmare for him is in so far as it will pre-empt, neutralise and even boomerang his primary line of attack. Unquestionably he will try to petrify the public into electing him, as Mr Bush did four years ago according to the Rove architectural blueprint. But every time Mr McCain attempts to induce fear by styling his opponent as an Ahmedinijad-hugging ingAf(c)nue incapable of keeping America safe from her enemies, Senator Obama will counterstrike that it is McCain -- greedy swallower of all the phoney claims about Iraq described by Scott McClellan -- who is the real naive. In fact he did just that yesterday, citing the book in response to a cheap shot about him not having been to Iraq since 2006.

After Bush, Obama will ask, do you honestly want a bellicose Beach Boy humming "Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran" as he arranges the family snaps on the Oval Office desk? The Senator paints me as babyishly hopeful that everything will come up roses, he'll say, so tell me who's the guy who bought the promise that US troops would have rose petals showered over them as they marched into Baghdad? Aren't you just sick of all the scarifying mendacity laid bare in that former press secretary's book?

It was fearmongering that persuaded the American people to support the war, and fearmongering that conned them into re-electing George Bush. Fool me once, shame on you, as Dubya once so hilariously struggled to articulate. Fool me twice, shame on me. But fool me thrice? Are you kidding?

--Matthew Norman


© 2023 The Independent