Monday, June 30, 2008

Wes Clark says what a lot of us have been waiting to hear said about McCranky's national-security cred, and Senator Obama turns his back on him

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"It's crucially important that we have a political debate in this country that's at least sophisticated enough to be able to handle the following rather basic idea: Arguing that a person's record of military service is not a qualification for the presidency does not constitute 'attacking' their military credentials; nor can it be described as invoking their military service against them, or as denying their record of war heroism.

"That's not a very high bar for sophistication. But right now it's one the press isn't capable of clearing."


-- Zachary Roth, this afternoon on the Columbia Journalism Review
"Campaign Desk" webpage

On one level, I think we need to get used to the fact that between now and November every day's news cycle is likely to include a new barrage of sniping at Barack Obama. We have to face the reality that as far as our sclerotic Infotainment Media are concerned, Young Johnny McCranky -- sleazy, ignorant, and ideologically whacked-out opportunist that he is -- is like unto a god walking among us, while the other guy is just some garden-variety Islamofascist-Marxist-Leninist off the Arab street.

Today's ruckus arises from comments made yesterday on Face the Nation by Gen. Wes Clark, who in response to questions said that while he certainly honors Young Johnny McCranky's service as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, that's not a qualification for the presidency. Nor does the "naval command" on his resume: "That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded—that wasn’t a wartime squadron. He hasn’t been there and ordered the bombs to fall." Finally, in response to moderator Bob Schieffer's observation that “Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences, either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down”, he said, “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”

At this point, let's turn to Zachary Roth's online account for CJR:

The McCain camp, sensing an opportunity, complained that Clark had "attacked John McCain’s military service record." Of course, Clark had done nothing of the kind. He had questioned the relevance of McCain's combat experience as a qualification to be president of the United States. This is a distinction that you'd expect any reasonably intelligent nine-year old to be able to grasp.

But many in the press have been unable to. ABC News political director Rick Klein led the outrage, writing in a blog post on ABCNews.com:
Find me a single Democrat who thinks it's good politics to call into question the military credentials of a man who spent five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war.

This is the perfect embodiment of the press's unbelievably destructive habit of assessing every piece of campaign rhetoric for its political acuity, rather than for its validity and accuracy. Clark’s comments may (or may not) have been impolitic. But that has no bearing on their validity or lack thereof—which is how the news media should be evaluating them.

Roth asks utterly reasonably, "Why should it be out of bounds for Democrats to argue that McCain's particular military experience has done little to prepare him for the decisions he'll have to make as president?" But the Infotainmenteers will have none of it, and he goes on to sample their veritable feeding frenzy.

By the time we sink to the level of Wall Street Journal analysis, we get Gerald Seib and Sara Murray writing: "The one certainty of the 2008 campaign, it might have seemed, was that Sen. John McCain would be acknowledged all around as a war hero for his service in Vietnam—but apparently not."

At which Roth wonders: "Did Seib and Murray even read what Clark said? Where did Clark say anything about McCain not being a war hero?"

And then today, on Day Two, Senator Obama turned his back on General Clark, with some obnoxious bloviating about patriotism:
Beyond a loyalty to America's ideals, beyond a willingness to dissent on behalf of those ideals, I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice -- to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause. For those who have fought under the flag of this nation -- for the young veterans I meet when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country -- no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides. We must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform. Period. Full stop.

Which makes you wonder, did Senator Obama even read what Clark said?

As a really smart colleague put it online earlier today, all Senator Obama had to do was issue this simple statement:

"That's not what General Clark said. He said he respects McCain's service -- as do we -- but that McCain has done nothing that shows he has the leadership ability to serve as commander in chief."

And then, of course, stick to it, however long it takes for this embarrassingly simple idea to penetrate the blockheads of the Infotainment Media. But this resoluteness is in fact something that the senator has shown himself to be quite good at.

I can only guess that Senator Obama and his people have made an all but exception-proof decision that they will fight no battle that they don't absolutely have to, apparently including even slightly risky battles that if won might pay off in significantly raising the candidate's stature, electability, presidential mandate, and consequently ability to govern.

Oh, they'll fight the battles they have to, as when the senator was inspired by necessity to make his outstanding speech on racism. They have no intention, in other words, of being swiftboated. But it appears that they won't venture onto less solid ground.

In fact, General Clark basically said the same thing that a lot of people, including a lot of military people, have been thinking and saying for a decade or more: that being a prisoner of war isn't any sort of credential to be commander-in-chief. In fact, a lot of them go further. I'm hearing a lot of military types who really do question the McCranky military record. But the general pointedly didn't do that. He talked only about qualifications for the presidency. And found himself out there on that limb all by himself.

I'm thinking now that a forceful, articulate national-security specialist like General Clark or Virginia Senator Jim Webb isn't going to find a place on the 2008 Democratic ticket. I'm thining that all the talk we're hearing about that dismal reactionary Sam Nunn maybe isn't just talk.

If I'm close to right about the Obama camp's take-no-risk strategy, it will quite likely get him into the White House. But I wonder what kind of leadership he'll be able to exert when he gets there. If he's thinking that he can be truly himself once he's in the Oval Office, history shows few instances of that happening. By and large, once you're "in command," you're far less likely to drive events than to be driven by them, especially in modern times.

I suppose you could argue that Chimpy the Prez is an exception. When the Supreme Court installed him in the Oval Office, he went on being what he always was: less than nothing. If this is supposed to be a reassuring example, however, it doesn't reassure me the least bit.
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