"I will weep for thee/For this betrayal of thine, methinks/is like another fall of man."
This is how Shakespeare´s Henry V addresses Lords Scroop, Cambridge and Grey, before ordering their execution for treason against the crown. If only former White House press secretary Scott McClellan had been closer to President George W. Bush, and could contend for such drama, his new tome might actually be worth something more than the $2.50 it will fetch in the bargain bin in a year´s time.
The media narrative regarding Mr. McClellan´s betrayal of President Bush, and his self-styled status as reluctant truth-teller is distressing in its predictably shallow view. Mr. McClellan´s actions mean less than the media says they do and illustrate more about what has brought American conservatism to its current rotten state than anyone seems to recognize.
For Mr. McClellan himself, his tell-all book operates on the oldest of Washington principles: that everyone inside the Beltway has their price. His original book proposal reads like so many other axe-grinding reputation savers that will emerge from loyal out of work ex-Bush appointees over the coming year. Pedantic and uninventive, it has the same vibrant, colorful, and innovative personality Mr. McClellan brought to the press office podium: that of stale unleavened bread.
“I will look at what is behind the media hostility toward the President and his administration, and how much of it is rooted in a liberal bias,” Mr. McClellan´s original proposal read; as obtained by multiple news outlets. “The public holds the national media in low esteem. I think there are several reasons why, and I intend to write about them in some detail while discussing ways the media could improve their image. It is more than just the perceived arrogance, cynicism, gotcha-journalism, and lack of accountability. The establishment media does not tend to reflect Main Street America, or spend enough time focusing on the issues that matter most to the general public, and too often sacrifice substance for process. They tend to reflect the liberal elites of New York and Washington that are part of the social circles in which they run, and it shows in their reporting. Yet, they live in a constant state of denial when it comes to acknowledging such an obvious fact.”
Ah, yes, media bias. Now this is a new and innovative concept that the public has never read about before except on blogs, in magazines, in newspapers, and on television. Everyone will be clamoring for such a book from a press spokesman known even to young poli-sci co-eds as “that one who came between Ari Fleischer and Tony Snow.”
Yet there is something to be gained from Mr. McClellan´s sad, predictable arc following his publisher´s explanation about what makes a bestseller (hint to aspiring authors: that proposal above isn´t it). It is just one more example of how many of the failures of the conservative movement and the Bush Administration originated in misplaced trust.
The administration´s failures of trust have grabbed headlines: FEMA´s Michael Brown, would-be Supreme Court Justice Harriet Miers, and the recess-appointed Immigrations and Custom Enforcement head Julie Myers. They and so many other appointees have been tasked with jobs for which their distinct lack of qualifications raised eyebrows from day one – yet the administration worked to assure the conservative grassroots that all were excellent, qualified, but most importantly individuals. After all, they would say, why would you conservatives listen to that liberal media instead of us? Haven´t you heard about media bias? Someone should write a book.
Conservatives should never have bound themselves so closely to President Bush as to merely accept his word, absent any verified proof, on the nature of his associates. But this was not the greatest failing of the movement in recent years. For that, one need look no further than the ramifications of conservatives´ trust in the former Texas congressman, Tom DeLay.
Embraced fully by Paul Weyrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the rest of the old guard of the right, Mr. DeLay was the man who could do no wrong, all the way up until his resignation in 2006. Conservative godfather Morton Blackwell wrote in 2005 that “They attack Tom DeLay for just one reason: Congressman DeLay is one of the most effective fighters for conservative principles.” This is almost certainly untrue: “they” – the liberal media, remember – attacked Mr. DeLay not just because of his conservatism, but because of his close association with a bevy of individuals who had received his imprimatur at one time or another, and are now in prison. The conservative movement never fully embraced Jack Abramoff (his very name is now a killing word), but they absolutely embraced the people he lobbied, and other House Republicans - putting their trust in the likes of Dennis Hastert and members who in turn claimed Mark Foley, Bob Ney and others were trustworthy fellows.
Regardless of your opinion of the individuals involved, conservatives in the post-Bush era must acknowledge a difficult truth: if conservatism is to have any future, it is as a movement that does not put too much faith in the individuals who claim to espouse shared ideology. Unearned trust begets scandal and betrayal, and the coalition that won in 1980 and 1994 will only survive as a coherent movement in this century if it embraces the reality that conservatism is larger than the politicians who invoke its principles.
Sometimes it is the ones who are close to you who hurt you the most. In Henry V, the King is particularly hung up on the betrayal of Lord Scroop, who “knew'st the very bottom of my soul/That almost mightst have coined me into gold.” To move forward, the new right must learn the lesson from the Scott McClellans of the world, and put capitalism to the side on this one point: conservatism is not for sale.
Ben Domenech is a co-founder of RedState and the editor of The City.