Peggy Noonan's thoughtful and fair perspective on contemporary politics often amazes me. I read her "Declarations" column in the Wall Street Journal every Saturday, always with real anticipation. Such was the case when she responded to Barack Obama's famous speech given after the first Jeremiah Wright controversy. She was quite moved by the speech and took a lot of heat for saying so. (Astute readers will also recall that Peggy Noonan wrote a personal memoir on Ronald Reagan, for whom she worked, and a biography of Pope John Paul, whom she loved deeply!)
Well, Ms. Noonan did it again today. She wrote a piece titled, "But Is It True?" Her response is to Scott McClellan's newly released memoir, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and the Culture of Deception. Again Ms. Noonan surprises many by asking the question that really matters. (I should noted, that I have not read the book and may not take the time to do so. Ms. Noonan did read it and her insights are good enough for now.) Here are a few of her choice lines:
"I want to quote a few of his defenders (i.e., McClellan's) but he doesn't have any."
"Americans in general have a visceral and instinctive dislike for what Drudge called a snitch. This is our tradition, and also human nature."
"He is a man alone, 'a pariah,' as Matt Lauer put it."
"He does not appear to have written this book to bolster his reputation. He paints himself a loser."
"His thoughts present themselves as cliches."
"The book is not a kiss-and-tell . . . or buss-and-bitch. It is not gossipy, of fun, or lively. It is lumpy, uneven and, when he attempts to share his historical insights . . . embarrassing."
But Peggy Noonan concludes that the purpose of the book is a serious one because McClellan attempts to reveal and expose what he believes, what he came to see, "as an inherent dishonesty and hypocrisy within a hardened administration. It is a real denunciation."
McClellan draws attention to the constant preoccupation with the media and spin in the White House, saying the Bush White House did, in effect, exactly what the Clinton White House did in this area.
McClellan's portrait of Bush is both "weird and conflicted" and "charming and disarming." He sees Bush as "humorous" and even politically gifted. But, Noonan concludes, McClellan believes that "Mr. Bush is vain, narrow, out of his depth and coldly dismissive of doubt, criticism and of critics."
Noonan says when she completed reading the book she came out neither admiring not despising McClellan. What matters, she argues, is one thing: "Is It True?" She concludes, "Let the debate on the issues commence."
I find myself deeply resonate with this analysis. I don't care about McClellan's motives so much as his contribution to the portrait of how we understand this White House. I think more memoirs and testimony will tell the real story. This will mean many more serious books will be needed. The same happened with Bill Clinton really. I have read a good number of these books, mostly those not written by his enemies at all, and the portrait is fairly consistent. He was not the worst president ever but he was deeply flawed. Bush is not the best president, or the worst, but his flaws are of a very different sort and time will reveal them I am quite sure.