Former Press Secretary Scott McClellan produced a similarly revealing book after he left the Bush administration. He presented an administration that never left campaign mode and aides that served the president poorly. Like Gates, McClellan also took aim at his former boss. He accused Bush of not being “open and forthright” when discussing the war in Iraq and of blundering in his response to Hurricane Katrina. Going back to the 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s former press secretary and close aide, George Stephanopoulos, wrote a tell-all sharing behind the scenes anecdotes like those found in Gates’s and McClellan’s books.
Although democracy is well-served when the citizenry is well-informed, all information is not equal. Exposing power struggles inside an administration doesn’t help citizens consider big policy issues. Casting doubt on a president’s leadership skills when he is in his second term (and can’t run for re-election) only erodes the president’s ability to lead. And revealing private White House sentiments creates the risk of future presidents and their aides being less candid in their conversations. This is not to suggest that presidential insiders should never go public with information. Indeed, democracy is preserved when corrupt actions of government officials are exposed, but doing so doesn’t require a lucrative book deal. Former advisors don’t need to risk undermining an incumbent administration just to reveal the fact that politicians consider the politics of their decisions.
Despite criticism about the timing of the release of the book, Gates defended his decision by saying it didn’t make any sense to wait until Obama is out of office to publish. Viewed only from a financial standpoint, he is probably correct. And with the money available to a high-level presidential confidant, it’s likely history will continue to repeat itself.
Should administration officials wait to publish their insider accounts? Or are the revelations too important to wait? Leave a comment.