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How McClellan Helps Us see W’s Flaws

Posted by GayPatriotWest at 5:07 pm - June 2, 2008.
Filed under: National Politics,Where W went wrong

In many ways, the story of the rise, fall and reemergence of Scott McClellan elucidates the principal problems which have plagued the presidency of George W. Bush.

Here, we see the president’s lack of concern for an aggressive public relations strategy to promote his policies, his tapping mediocrities for positions of responsibility merely because of their loyalty to him and his stubbornness in keeping staffers and other officials on long after they have demonstrated their incompetence (or keeping on those who, while once effective, had lost the stuff which once defined their success).

Long before the president asked McClellan to step down as White House Press Secretary, conservative pundits and bloggers had been calling for his ouster. Bill Kristol defined his stance in press conferences as a “defensive crouch.” Robert Novak points out that many of his colleagues thought McClellan was “unqualified” for the job of press secretary. In an excellent piece which really gets at the president’s personnel problems, David Frum noted that in his “televised confrontatations with the savage White House press corps,” McClellan looked “frightened, like a schoolboy trying to retrieve his mittens from a persecuting gang of bullies.

Only someone indifferent to public relations would tap such an individuals as his chief spokesman.

The President elevated McClellan to Press Secretary because this Texan had been a loyal supporter from his days as chief executive of the Lone Star State. Frum finds that except for Karl Rove, “these Texans were a strikingly inadequate bunch:”

hat early team was recruited with one paramount consideration in mind: loyalty. Theoretically, it should be possible to combine loyalty with talent. But that did not happen often with the Bush team.

Bush demanded a very personal kind of loyalty, a loyalty not to a cause or an idea, but to him and his own career.

But, even as it became obvious to anyone who followed the news that McClellan was not up to the task of handling a hostile White House press corps, the president stood by his longtime supporter. Just as he kept on Alberto Gonzales who, while certainly a competent attorney, had repeatedly demonstrated that he could not withstand the political pressures of the Attorney General’s office.

Frum also suggests that if the president had wanted to attract strong personalities to serve on his staff, he needed “demand something more than personal loyalty” and offer a more “compelling vision and ideal.” While the president has generally offered a compelling vision when he has spoken out on the War on Terror, he did fail to hire staffers able to make a compelling case to the news media and American public. Had he better appreciated the power of public relations, he would certainly have recognized the necessity to tap individuals whose qualification was not their loyalty to him, but their ability to communicate.

His predecessor showed he recognized as much when he hired Mike McCurry even though that spokesman had once worked for one of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, Bob Kerrey. Bush also plucked a press secretary from the campaign of a partisan rival. McClellan’s predecessor, Ari Fleischer, got his start in presidential politics when he signed on as Communications Director for Elizabeth Dole’s 2000 presidential campaign when she was running against George W. Bush, Fleischer’s future employer.

Fleischer got good marks for his performance both from the media and conservatives. From this example, the president should have learned that personal loyalty alone does not a good spokesman make. Communications skills matter far more.



  1. The two term Clinton presidency built a great farm club for media appearances, Carville, Bergallia, Brazille, Dee Dee Meyers, Mandy Grumwald, Stephanopolis, Ickes….

    Who has George Bush build up as a prospect for the new media age?
    Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove, Tony Snow was already a recognized figure, that’s all I can think of, the rest are talk show hosts, columnists.

    Comment by Geena the transgirl — June 2, 2008 @ 11:29 pm - June 2, 2008

  2. Geena: If you want to characterize that cast of characters as something positive then I’m glad the Republicans seem to suck at PR.

    Comment by Vince P — June 2, 2008 @ 11:43 pm - June 2, 2008

  3. You think their LACK of concern for PR is one of their central problems?!?!

    Damn. If other republicans are as clueless as you, this elections gonna be AMAZING for the democrats…

    Comment by Dan — June 3, 2008 @ 1:18 am - June 3, 2008

  4. Dan, let me repeat something I said in the post. What person concerned with PR would hire Scott McClellan as his chief spokesman? Do you have any evidence of his successfully “spinning” the news or even getting the president’s message out?

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — June 3, 2008 @ 1:23 am - June 3, 2008

  5. Lack of PR is a core flaw of the Republicans. Conservatives have been complaining about it since 1994.

    Are you going to tell me it isn’t ? Are we lying when we say it?

    Ooooooh I get it.. I didn’t mention all their flaws.. or the ones you were looking for.. so i shouldn’t ahve said anything?

    Not that I expect someone who makes such an emotional statement as yours to actialy stick around and respond.

    Comment by Vince P — June 3, 2008 @ 1:32 am - June 3, 2008

  6. Dan’s comments only reinforces why GayPatriot West is absolutely right! Bush’s complete lack of abilility not only to articulate his policies but also to articulate the morality behind those policies has allowed his political adversaries to define both those policies and the morality behind them as they wish. Last weeks Frank Luntz asked a group of Democratic voters who was more dangerous, George Bush or President Ahmadinejad? When the majority of them said George Bush I laughed out loud at the sheer ignorance of this lot and at the sad fact that President Bush has lamely placed himself in the position where this question needs to be asked.


    Comment by John — June 3, 2008 @ 1:45 am - June 3, 2008

  7. John used the right word – “articulate.” Good PR doesn’t necessarily come from “spinning” a story or any other attempt to hide the truth, but rather comes from being able to communicate effectively so that others can understand your message.

    Comment by Pepe — June 3, 2008 @ 10:24 am - June 3, 2008

  8. I’ve only seen McClellan interviewed twice on TV during his book promotion tour, but I’ve noticed how much more articulate he suddenly is. He comes across as more sure of himself and Monday night on Fox he didn’t back down an inch during a tough interview with Bill O’Reilly.

    If McClellan had had that kind of backbone as press secretary he would have better served the President he still claims to admire.

    Comment by Trace Phelps — June 3, 2008 @ 3:54 pm - June 3, 2008

  9. I can sort of understand why he didn’t stutter.. since all he had to do was practise about 6 sentences at most… and just repeat them in a random order

    Comment by Vince P — June 3, 2008 @ 4:10 pm - June 3, 2008

  10. Gee… 3 days and I don’t care about McClellan. And no one else does, either. His 15 minutes are already over.

    Comment by ILoveCapitalism — June 4, 2008 @ 9:57 pm - June 4, 2008

  11. “Alberto Gonzales who, while certainly a competent attorney, had repeatedly demonstrated that he could not withstand the political pressures of the Attorney General’s office.”

    You mean pressures like being asked to support and justify unethical and illegal practices committed by the Bush administration? Or perhaps it was working with all those graduates of Pat Robertson’s “law school” that got to him…..

    Comment by Kevin — June 5, 2008 @ 11:24 am - June 5, 2008

  12. Kevin, please identify with reference to actual facts, anything illegal that Gonzales did.

    He had every right to fire the US Attorneys. He demonstrated his incompetence as Attorney General by his failure to defend the action. They are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president.

    If you can provide an example of an investigation obstructed by the way Gonzales handled the situation, you may have a point.

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — June 5, 2008 @ 1:10 pm - June 5, 2008

  13. love that fact that he characterizes condi as spineless.

    Comment by markie — June 5, 2008 @ 4:31 pm - June 5, 2008

  14. #13 – Fly away, seagull.

    Peter H.

    Comment by Peter Hughes — June 5, 2008 @ 6:18 pm - June 5, 2008

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