Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book: What Happened?

"What Happened? Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception" by Scott McClellan is the tell-all (or, more likely, tell enough to get good sales figures) memoir by Bush II's first press secretary.

The book is longer than it needs to be, and not that well edited but I enjoyed it and do not regret reading it. The best parts are in the middle where McClellan is describing how the public relations machine worked in the Bush II White House. Also of interest is the balance that a press secretary must strike between maintaining his or her credibility capital and pushing out the message of the day, which will often not be very credible. The description at the beginning of McClellan's personal history is a bit indulgent. The concluding chapter, which offers up some policy recommendations, is a disappointment that is long on high school civics platitudes and re-arrangements of the white house organizational chart and short on things that seemed to me likely to have much effect. Overall, McClellan comes off as a sincere, competent and hard-working fellow taken by surprise by the workings of the DC political culture.

As an aside, it turns out that Scott McClellan is the brother of Mark McClellan, health economist and former commissioner of the FDA, in addition to playing other roles in the Bush II administration. Mark was one of the first to apply instrumental variables methods in health economics.