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McClellan On Countdown: “Where Did Things Go Wrong?”

I suspect the right will characterize Scott McClellan’s interview on Countdown last night as proof that he has joined the far left. But that charge will ring as hollow as their latest cover story that McClellan’s editors wrote his book.

Scottie didn’t say anything that fits on a liberal-to-conservative continuum, unless one views truth as a liberal bias. His main themes are not about left-vs-right ideology but about intellectual honesty and the importance of Presidential character. It’s about lying to the public.

The delicious irony is that the man the White House trained as a propagandist is now killing them with sincerity and candor, a Mr. Sunshine burning through the vampires’ crypt, while their ad hominen attacks only prove his main points.

McClellan’s non-ideological epiphany presents a dilemma for Bush loyalists and McCain’s campaign in trying to discredit their accuser. Are they arguing against Presidential candor and transparency when taking a nation to war? And since the truth about WMD and Saddam’s non-threat was readily available from real journalists (more here), how does John McCain defend his WMD gullibility except by conceding he fell for Dick Cheney’s mind tricks?

OLBERMANN: How did the vice president fit into this? How did—is the vice president responsible for the utilization of "weapons of mass destruction" and this kind of innuendo, "I didn’t really say that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, but I left you with that impression?"

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think there were a couple of times that he walked very close to that. He went further out than anybody else in the administration. I think the president was very careful not to make that in a direct way. But it’s not the only issue where the vice president went further then others in the administration.

He also went further on the nuclear intelligence when he started asserting with certainty that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. So what happened was, that the intelligence was packaged together in a way to make it sound more ominous and more grave and more urgent than it really was. I don’t think that this was some deliberate, conscious effort to go and mislead American people, but it was part of this permanent campaign mentality that exists in Washington too often today and it was taken from other policies, and brought into the issue of war and peace where it becomes especially problematic and especially troubling.

And does John McCain disagree with this:

MCCLELLAN: Well I don’t think I held on to [a belief in Bush being a bipartisan leader] until the end. When we came in, we got some bipartisan achievements accomplished on tax cuts and on education reform, education reforms that I really believed in as part of his agenda. But by the time the Iraq war started to—well, I think it’s critical that in a time of war, that you not only build bipartisan support going into it, but that you also maintain that support.

And to do that, you really have to embrace a high level of openness and forthrightness from the beginning. Because when expectations turned out to be unmet or improperly set, it came back to haunt us. And the president is not someone to willingly go and change course in terms of his thinking when it comes to, oh, we made a mistake on this front.

And so, I think that at the time I was there, I started realizing or started thinking that, well, maybe Washington can’t be changed. Maybe this is just the way it is and both parties share all the responsibility.

But no one shares more responsibility than the president of the United States to set the right tone and to change things, and no one has more of a bully pulpit to be able to do that. But it requires embracing candor and honesty to a high degree, particularly in this transparent society that we live in.

And this White House was too secretive or has been too secretive, too compartmentalized, and you know, too willing to embrace the unsavory political tactics that are at the heart of the excesses of the permanent campaign.

The extended interview is filled with such moments. (The MSNBC videos are here.)

No wonder Bush loyalists and McCain’s staff are in a panic. The wheels have been falling off the Straight Talk Bus as McCain was pummeled for his campaign and spiritual choices; he’s voted consistently with Bush and has repeatedly praised Bush’s war policies. McCain hoped to wear Petreaus’ surge as armor, but if he has to defend why we invaded Iraq in the first place, he’ll have to share the emperor’s clothes.

Update: The LA Times appears to agree McCain "has some explaining to do." (h/t MarieRoget) Cliff Schecter has the list of issues.

H/t newtonusr for the video clip.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley