Honor among scribes

Notes from the political sidelines.
Aug. 11 2007 1:55 PM

Honor Among Scribes

A vegan speechwriter pens the juiciest hatchet job of the Bush era.

80_thehasbeen

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Red Meat: Until this week, former Bush speechwriter Matt Scully's sole claim to fame was as conservatism's most determined vegetarian. His book, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, made the compassionate conservative case for animal rights. George Will dubbed Scully "the most interesting conservative you have never heard of."

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After Scully's devastating write-and-tell smackdown of former speechwriting colleague and press favorite Michael Gerson in The Atlantic, however, animals won't be the ones whimpering for mercy. Never underestimate the wrath of a vegan scorned. Scully doesn't just jab his fellow Bushie as a shameless publicity hound; he guts Gerson and hangs him on the mantle.

The salad days of compassionate conservatism are over. Welcome to the Romney era: If you act like a dog, get ready for a long, cold ride on the roof.

Maybe Tim Noah is right that Scully protesteth too much. But most kiss-and-tell tales are easy to dismiss because they serve one purpose – self-promotion. In this case, that's the very sin for which Gerson stands indicted. Scully seems less interested in seeking his share of the credit than in outing Gerson for taking more credit than he deserved.

While it's hard for outsiders to know the truth in family feuds, that doesn't mean we can't enjoy them. Scully's piece is one of the juiciest hatchet jobs in memory. In brutal detail, he recounts Gerson's meticulous "credit-hounding" inside the White House and with the outside world. According to Scully, Gerson took all the bows but did little of the actual writing.

Although every major Bush speech was a collaboration – usually written on the computer of a third speechwriter, John McConnell – Scully says Gerson led the senior staff and countless profile writers to believe that all the best lines were his own. Reporters and authors routinely gave Gerson credit for words that weren't his and for speeches others wrote.

By Scully's account, Gerson's oft-reported ritual of secluding himself in a nearby Starbucks produced plenty of self-serving profiles, but no speeches. The Gerson legend sounds like many an address he claimed to write for Bush – it sounds better because it's made up. Scully writes:

"The narrative that Mike Gerson presented to the world is a story of extravagant falsehood. He has been held up for us in six years' worth of coddling profiles as the great, inspiring, and idealistic exception of the Bush White House. In reality, Mike's conduct is just the most familiar and depressing of Washington stories—a history of self- seeking and media manipulation that is only more distasteful for being cast in such lofty terms."

Scully's tale will be seen as the worst breach yet in the famed Bush White House discipline. With the Bush presidency in ruins, those who once served him are forced to fight for scraps on the dustbin of history.

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