Wednesday, June 25, 2008

McClellan won't rule out vote for Obama

SAN FRANCISCO — Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, whose recently published memoir skewers the Bush administration as part of Washington's "culture of deception," said Tuesday it's not out of the question that he'd vote for Democrat Barack Obama in this year's presidential election.

"I haven't made a decision. ... I think we need to press the candidates to be more specific on how they intend to follow through on what they've been talking about'' in regard to changing the nation's political discourse, McClellan told reporters after addressing the Commonwealth Club of California at the Fairmont Hotel.

He praised Republican presidential candidate John McCain as a straight shooter, but said he likes what he hears from Obama, too. While speaking to the audience of about 550, he'd noted how he'd changed party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in the 1980s; while speaking to reporters afterward, he said he wouldn't rule out switching back.

"I haven't made any long-term decisions at this point," he said. "I've always come at it from a centrist viewpoint."

He also told reporters he'd had no contact from either Obama's or McCain's campaigns since his book — "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception" — was published several weeks ago, and he's "definitely happy to be sitting it out this time around."

McClellan, 40, has been crisscrossing the nation on a speaking Advertisementtour in support of his book. He testified before the House Judiciary Committee last Friday, saying President Bush lost the public's trust and approval by failing to be open and candid about his mistakes, including his administration's leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

On Tuesday, he noted how the House Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican,

Lamar Smith of Texas, had trivialized his testimony by calling it a "book of the month" hearing.

McClellan joked about a few other not-yet-written titles for the committee to consider, including, "The Lies I Told to Whom and Why," by former White House political adviser Karl Rove; "I Upped Halliburton's Income, So Up Yours," by Vice President Dick Cheney; and "Well, Pardon Me,'' by convicted former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. The audience laughed and applauded for each.

McClellan said he's taken "plenty of criticism for me telling a story as I knew it and as I lived it," but he sees his book as a means of laying bare the poisoned partisan politics now dominating the nation's capital. Politicians oversimplify and distort serious issues to support ideology, he said, and the national media are complicit by getting too caught up in the never-ending electoral horse race.

His final 10 months as White House press secretary "was a period of increasing disillusionment," he said, but it wasn't until after he stepped down from the podium in April 2006 and began organizing his thoughts to write this memoir that he "realized how badly misplaced my trust in this administration was."

The Bush White House "shunned candor and openness with the American people," he said, and he "got caught up in this destructive culture just as so many others do."

Taking questions from the audience, McClellan said he believes that if Bush had foreseen how long and how many lives the invasion and occupation and Iraq would take, "I don't think he would've made the decision. I don't think he would've gone to war in the first place."

Bush is "very disciplined" and "understands the need to stay focused on the bigger picture," he said, adding that the only time he saw "a little bit of self-doubt in his eyes" was when Bush met with families of wounded or slain troops. "There is genuine care and concern there," even if the war was misguided, McClellan said.

Later, McClellan told reporters that although Cheney was hailed as a great pick when Bush selected him as a running mate in 2000, the vice president has had "a terribly negative impact on this presidency."

He said McCain should seek a running mate with a similar "maverick, independent" reputation, and Obama needs "someone with some foreign-policy heft" who reinforces the ticket's theme of change and optimism."

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