Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 01:40 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 01:40 | SYDNEY

Political loyalty, then and now


Michael Fullilove


2 June 2008 09:11

Over the past week, I've been reading Ted Sorensen's new memoir, Counselor: A Life At The Edge of History, which I'm reviewing for the Financial Times. It's difficult to avoid comparisons between the campaign stories Sorensen tells and the 2008 presidential race, not least because of Sorensen's repeated warm endorsements of Senator Barack Obama. Two developments in the last couple of days have brought home to me how completely politics have changed since Sorensen's day.

The obsessive media treatment is the first: the breathless minute-by-minute coverage of developments that gave American viewers an OJ-style 'motorcade-cam' view of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's entourage making its way to his final press conference; and which led CNN to absurdly overblow the weekend's meeting of the rules committee of the Democratic National Committee, which it dubbed 'Decision Day'.

Another shift is the steep decline in political ethics on the part of former White House staff. By ethics I don't mean, in this case, the reappearance of former aides in well-paid positions in Washington lobbying firms, but rather the dreadful book just published by former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. The New York Post's Rich Lowry describes McClellan this way: 'Likable, but maladroit and plodding, he was the perfect spokesman for the administration of Harriet Miers, Michael Brown and Al Gonzales.' It's fair to say that that McClellan would not have made intern in Sorensen's office in the White House.

But the real difference between the two men lies in the measure of their loyalty. More than four decades after John F. Kennedy's death, Sorensen still defends him against most (though not all) comers; he is not uncritical of JFK, but he still takes his boss's side. On the other hand, within two years of being pushed out of the Bush White House, McClellan has a product in the bookstores in which he dumps on the man who made him.

Most of Scott McClellan's charges against his former boss — that he allowed the truth to be obscured in the push to war, that he allowed Dick Cheney to wield excessive power within his Administration, and so on — are correct, and barely even controversial anymore. But how on earth could he feel he's the right person to level them?