Full disclosure: I never was much of a Tony Snow fan.
From the very first time I became aware of him, flacking for Newt Gingrich's Republican Party from his chair on Fox News back in the '90s, he wasn't "Tony Snow" but "Tony Snow-job" to me.
When he moved over from Fox to become George Bush's press secretary a few years ago, taking up residence in the most dishonest and damaging White House in American history, it was merely a change of address, not a change in duties. Indeed, Snow was one of the few individuals who could have taken that job and actually slept better for it. Although his job was primarily to lie and to defend the lies of others, at least he was no longer masquerading as a newsman. As far as honest work goes, it was a step in the right direction.
I'll grudgingly admit -- and this was the worst part -- he was good at what he did. Looking at his predecessors, you knew at a glance that Ari Fleischer was lying. He seemed to ooze lies out of that bald pate. You could almost see them forming in pools at his feet during those briefings, and I thought it may have been their naturally corrosive effect which ultimately made necessary a million-dollar refurbishment of the White House press room after he left.
Scott McClellan's skills were different. For one thing, events would later show he did have an honest bone in his body. So he took the Bush White House's default position -- if you can't say something untruthful, don't say anything at all. He became the Sergeant Schulz of the administration -- "I know nothing. Nothing." -- and then they lied to him too, just in case.
But if Fleischer was obviously lying, and McClellan was obviously stonewalling, Snow's unique talent lay in not being so obvious about it. He once called the press secretary's job the most "intellectually aerobic job I'm ever going to have," and I didn't doubt it. He defended the indefensible, and given the supine, brain-dead White House press corps who were his partners in the charade that we have a functioning president who cares about our well-being and merits our respect, he could do it and walk away with his credibility intact.
The Sunday gabfests were full of pundit testimonials for their former colleague -- the Sunday morning millionaires are never so sincere as when telling us how much we should love them -- but the best was Tony's old show, Fox News Sunday. To testify to Snow's deep compassion and sense of humanity, they brought out -- drum roll, please -- vice president Dick Cheney (??) and radio hate-speech host Rush Limbaugh (???). I guess Ann Coulter was already booked.
Along the way, someone said Snow helped maintain the president's approval ratings (???). Spinning in defiance of the facts? That would be true to Snow's spirit, but maybe that's not it. It may be that the Republican propaganda network, more than anyone, is amazed it hasn't come down to peasants with pitchforks by now. What do we have to do? Collapse the financial system? Throw them out of their houses? Sell their children in debt-slavery to China?
And there are other reasons to think Snow's effectiveness was a bit less than hyped. When he broke precedent by taking to the political hustings as the Republicans' marquee fundraiser prior to the 2006 elections, those of us who think the GOP's extinction cannot come soon enough found room to forgive him when we watched the returns come in.
I'm not one to dance on the graves of the dead, and by all accounts, Snow also contained an uncommon decency on a personal level. He would remember the sick children and quiet aspirations of even casual acquaintances and go out of his way to boost their spirits when needed. I heard these stories even before his death, and that's no small thing. Who knows -- maybe it's the only thing. And his personal courage and good humor in the face of his disease should be inspiring to anyone.
But he spent his public career promoting a political ideology, party, and finally a president who brought on the premature, unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents and diminished the lives of millions more, and will continue to do so long after he's gone. He received great financial rewards for it, and he applauded the even greater enrichment of many even less deserving than he. And if there's any consolation to his own premature death, it's that he won't have to witness the worst consequences of his actions, which I suspect are still to come.
So the best and kindest send-off I can give him is this, and may it be afforded me someday:
God have mercy on his soul.