Some of the buzz in the air in Washington today stems from this* essay in The Atlantic by former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully, in which he unloads a powerful round of behind-the-scenes anecdotage to cut the ground out from underneath his WH colleague, Michael Gerson. Scully neatly deconstructs Gerson’s manipulation of the press and of office politics in the service of building his own reputation and exaggerating his accomplishments. It’s the kind of gossipy tell-all that allows one to revel in both schadenfreude in the tumbling of a media star and vicarious victory over the aggrandizer. But, for me, the piece’s most revealing moment isn’t about Gerson, it’s about the administration. In portraying how the speechwriting team could function smoothly, oiled by inside jokes and irony, Scully writes:
Education speeches in particular—with their endlessly complicated programs and slightly puffed-up theories, none of which we could ever explain quite to the satisfaction of our policy people—were always good for a laugh. As John observed in late 2003, around draft 20 in the typically chaotic revising of an education speech, “We’ve taken the country to war with less hassle than this.”
Translation: “Ha-ha! Those idiots bought our war and we didn’t even work that hard on selling it!” To be fair, I think they’d have had a much easier time hawking their education policy if Judy Miller had been on the beat.
*Changed the link to their not “totally special just for the media” one. I’m told they’re putting the article outside the firewall soon.