I heard Scott McClellan speak this evening at Politics and Prose, in honor of the release of What Happened.
The place was packed; so much so that it was hotter inside than it was outside (and it was about 97 degrees outside). People had wristbands with numbers, and after the talk was over some of them had to wait another hour to get a copy of the book. I was at the back of the crowd, so far away that I couldn't see Mr. McClellan at all; but he came out loud and clear over the PA system.
I never thought much of Mr. McClellan as a speaker back when he was Press Secretary; he always seemed fumbling and a little doofy. He's still... not much of a speaker. But I took notes, and here are the high points of his talk:
* "George W. Bush still believes he'll come out, in the long term, as a hero. That's because he knows history remembers success over candor." (He was referring specifically to the deposition of Saddam Hussein; it's doubtful that even history will remember the Iraq war as a "success.")
* "It was our continuous campaign culture that caused the administration to ignore or misrepresent particular issues; not the desire to mislead the American public." (So... it's okay to misrepresent facts if you're campaigning, but if they hadn't had that really good reason, it would have just been misleading for misleading's sake. And they didn't want to do that.)
* McClellan made it clear that he was never involved in any of the decision-making processes. Those decisions were made "in little rooms, with two or three people," and they never ever let the press secretaries in. Then he said that, because he wasn't ever that someone-in-a-tree, he couldn't really speak to all of the details surrounding those decisions, although he theorizes about them in his book.
* He was completely deceived during the Valerie Plame situation. 100%. Never suspected Rove and Libby were lying to him.
* McClellan grew up wanting to change the state of politics in Washington, and realized he couldn't do it as a staffer or even as a press secretary. But he believes he can do it with this book.
* "The candidate right now with the biggest advantage [for change] is Barack Obama." The crowd cheers, then: "That, um, doesn't mean I'm endorsing him or anything."
* He tarnished that non-endorsement a bit by saying that Obama reminded him of GWB in 2000, back when GWB "really believed in change." Really? Really-really? (How did I miss that?)
All in all he came off like the idealistic kid he admitted he still was; the kid who is convinced that if he says the right combination of words he won't get the crap kicked out of him on the playground. The kid who daydreams about making a speech which will inspire the bigger kids to let everyone play kickball, even if they're slow or bad at kicking. The fourth-grade hero.
Either way, of course, his book's going to be ridiculously successful, and I'll read it the next time I'm in a bookstore. But that doesn't mean I'm... um... endorsing it or anything.