There’s a special talent to being press secretary in the Bush Administration, because they have the unenviable task of representing the public face of All That We Hate. Ari Fleischer knew this. Because in 2001-2002, Ari Fleischer made virtually no effort to hide an attitude that mostly said, “That’s okay – I hate you too. But our approval rating means you can just suck it.” His distain actually made him pretty good at the job.
Then came Scott McClellan, who got the position just as public opinion on the administration finally reached the sane conclusions, and things, as they say, took a turn. McClellan is not a man who doesn’t have arrogant distain in his armory, nor the sharp edges of Fleischer. McClellan, all round softness, had only flop-sweat to save him as he wearily repeated the same things over and over, even though the White House press corps had recently located its collective balls – something McClellan had clearly not been warned about.
But McClellan was a visual reminder of the heavy kid who couldn’t make it through gym class, who dreaded the presidential fitness tests, who got hit with Every. Last. Dodgeball. And so while I could be satisfied in hating Ari Fleischer, I always had a bit of pity for Scott McClellan.
If “Daily Show” interviews in the last year or so are any indication, it’s that the former members of the Bush Administration will never Get It. They will never understand why we are so goddamned angry. They seem to think that leaving, writing a book, and going on TV with a practiced-genial smile and light admissions of, “Well, now that I’m out, I can say what I really thought!” is enough to win over the embittered liberal viewership of something like “The Daily Show.” A viewership whose collective anger and confusion over the administration’s refusal to admit to even the most basic of truths is voiced by Jon Stewart.
In the nation’s long, painful break-up with the Bush Administration, Jon Stewart seems to be representing our friend who is trying like hell to explain our feelings to this group we don’t want any more part of. He is the Joan Cusack of our John Cusack movie, really.
So there Scott McClellan sat, smiling obliviously, clearly not expecting a verbal pummeling, because apparently he has not learned anything and did practically no prep-work before showing up. He thought he’d get a pat on the back and a “welcome to our side” from Stewart.
Instead, god bless him, Stewart took the opportunity to push the issue of how McClellan and crew’s systematic manipulation of facts leading up to the Iraq war are not the very definition of the word “Lying.” Which McClellan tried to squirm out of, not at all well, before finally, pissily mumbling, “Well were you in the room?” as the practiced smile cracked a little. And the sweating started.
Meanwhile, Stewart’s smile widened, because behind the light ribbing and the “I’m no expert, but, uh…” playing dumb, he was sending McClellan a message: “The book doesn’t matter. We don’t care that you’re sharing weak-ass opinions now that your boss’s already done for. You stood there and lied to us consistently and totally for years, and we want an apology.”
It’s happened a lot, lately. McCain was the last time I noticed Stewart’s interview strategy of laying out basic facts and watching, astonished, as McCain couldn’t satisfactorily reconcile what he’d said with what was true, but wouldn’t admit to the mistake, either.
So Stewart and “The Daily Show” have become a useful way to send a message, from us, to every former insider currently angling for a cable-news pundit job:
"We haven’t forgotten, and fuck you for thinking we might."