History Commons Groups

September 27, 2008

Books We Read: Mini-Reviews of Two GOP Whistleblowers

How to Rig an Election
Allen Raymond
2008 Simon and Schuster
256 pages

What Happened
Scott McClellan
2008 PublicAffairs
368 pages

This time around, we’re taking quick glances at two books from Republican whistleblowers. McClellan, the former Bush press secretary, became a nine-day wonder on the pundit circuit, while Raymond’s book garnered far less coverage. It should have been reversed, because when all is said and done, there is far more meat on the bones of Raymond’s book than on McClellan’s.

McClellan stopped traffic with what was portrayed as a “tell-all” book. Finally, a Bush insider is turning over the rocks in the White House and giving us all a good long look at the leggedy things scuttling around underneath. But that’s not what McClellan gave us. To paraphrase a saying of some of the more colorful characters of my youth, his book is all sizzle and not much steak. I don’t think McClellan is holding too much back. Instead, he just seems to be a truly bland, wishy-washy person, all too willing to remain ignorant of the worst of the administration’s excesses and to defend (or at least excuse) those actions. McClellan spends an inordinate amount of time extolling the virtues of his former colleagues, even those such as Alberto Gonzales and Lewis Libby who have demonstrably committed grave crimes against the US populace. He acknowledges that “misdeeds” were perpetrated, particularly in the events surrounding the outing of former CIA analyst and NOC agent Valerie Plame Wilson, but between the glowing character references, his hand-wringing over his own divided loyalties (tell the truth or stand with your colleagues and your President), and his glossing over of the worst of the illegal activities he does know about, McClellan barely acknowledges these major crimes and misdeeds, must less gives much new information about them. He spends thousands of words decrying the “perpetual campaign” atmosphere that enveloped the Bush administration from its first days in office, and fixes much of the blame for that mindset on Bush’s political handler, Karl Rove. Too much blame, I believe–no one in that White House was forced to handle every crisis and issue with marketing and propaganda techniques, with little or no thought given to the needs of the nation or the citizenry. McClellan gives a backwards acknowledgement to the fact that everything from the Iraq war to the response to Hurricane Katrina was handled with the same thought processes as go into selling us a new car or a new dishwashing liquid. Worse, McClellan tells us that the Bush White House merely extended the same “perpetual campaign” behaviors it inherited and copied from its predecessors in the Clinton White House, a charge I find far too pervasive. I suppose it was inevitable that, along the way, a Bush official had to blame Clinton for something. In the end, McClellan attempts to paint a portrait of himself as a beltway Hamlet, struggling for his soul while attempting to loyally serve the men and women he admires. But while I don’t question his sincerity, I do question his substance. Ultimately, the soul-searching and struggles with conscience amount to little more than the qualms a fraternity pledge experiences when deciding whether or not to take part in his first panty raid.

Raymond tells a much different story, and in a much different fashion. Where McClellan is an Animal House Hamlet, Raymond is an engaging raconteur who spends almost no time wringing his hands and bewailing his fate. It’s plain that Raymond enjoyed what he did, and wasted little energy wrestling with his conscience. Raymond was a low-level GOP operative out of New Jersey, who took part in an escalating series of political activities–“shenanigans” to some, crimes to others–that culminated in his firm’s blocking the phone lines of the New Hampshire Democratic Party during Election Day morning in 2002. Raymond is almost gleeful in recounting the various barely legal (and sometimes frankly illegal) machinations he indulged in on behalf of his employers (it’s hard to see Raymond as anything more than a party mercenary, loyal to the cash he received and little else). If McClellan is the fraternity pledge who shuffles through the girls’ dorm at the tail end of the panty raid, stealing peeks at half-dressed girls through partially closed doors and furtively fondling the single set of underwear he dared snatch, Raymond is the guy who sets the other frat house on fire and laughs about it over a beer the day after. Where McClellan wears his battles with his conscience on his sleeve, staring up at us with doe eyes and begging us to acknowledge his struggles, Raymond is a happy cynic, dancing through the wreckage he leaves behind and looking for something else fun and profitable to do the next week. It is worth noting that in Raymond’s opinion, the real big-league political operations are the exclusive bailiwick of his Republicans–while some Democrats may have the will to do some of the things his GOP does on a regular basis, he says, they lack the experience and ultimately the “guts” to erase the lines of civilized, legally constrained behavior and “do what it takes to win.” I prefer to believe that the Democrats just don’t reach the depths of brutal amorality that Raymond’s Republicans seem to inhabit. But as cynical and amoral as Raymond may be, his book is a lot more fun to read than McClellan’s.

Coming up: a brace of books by Joseph Wilson and his wife, the aforementioned Valerie Plame Wilson. Yes, indeed, we’re delving into all things Plame at the Commons.

Have you read either Raymond’s or McClellan’s books? What were your reactions? What else are you reading? Don’t be shy!


  1. Great post. I will read your posts frequently. Added you to the RSS reader.

    Comment by Jamie Holts — September 27, 2008 @ 7:57 pm | Reply

  2. Glad you found us, Jamie. I’m reading some of the material on your site now.

    Comment by Max — September 27, 2008 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

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