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."

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 23 2014 6:00 AM Monster Kids from poorer neighborhoods keep coming to trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.