Walk the Walk

Yesterday on "Face the Nation," General Wesley Clark said (in part) that, while he honored John McCain's military service, it doesn't qualify him to be president:
Bob Schieffer: Well you, you went so far as to say that you thought John McCain was, quote, and these are your words, "untested and untried." And I must say I, I had to read that twice, because you're talking about somebody who was a prisoner of war. He was a squadron commander of the largest squadron in the Navy. He's been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for lo these many years. How can you say that John McCain is un- untested and untried? General?

General Wesley Clark: Because in the matters of national security policy making, it's a matter of understanding risk. It's a matter of gauging your opponents, and it's a matter of being held accountable. John McCain's never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in Air- in the Navy that he commanded, it wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, 'I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it-'


Schieffer: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean-

Clark: Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President.
Nor do I. Of course, I don't think John McCain has ever explicitly claimed it as a qualification to be president in the first place. What he's done is use the very compelling story of his "riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down" to mask the realities of his positions on the war, on torture, on funding wounded veterans, and lots of other stuff. And there's a way to make that point that doesn't invoke a strawman.

What Clark should have said is: "John McCain has military experience, but not executive experience, and on the issues where his personal experience should make him a good leader—on the war, on torture, on funding the troops on the battlefield and after they come home—he has consistently made terrible decisions. He's not been a leader; he's just followed the failed policies of George Bush."

Instead, Clark (who has endorsed Obama) forced Obama to disavow his statements:
"No one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides," Obama said. "We must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform."
—and gave McCain an opportunity to accuse Democrats of denigrating his service.

I don't think I need to say (again) how much I loathe John McCain, but the fact is I'd sooner vote for a hollowed out tree stump filled with industrial farm waste than vote for John McCain—yet lines like "That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded—that wasn't a wartime squadron" really stick in my craw. I fail utterly to find any discernible difference between that kind of shit and the shit lobbed at John Kerry mocking his purple heart having been given for getting a boo-boo on his butt.

Okay, taking fire in the ass isn't the same as having a limb blown off, and leading a peacetime squadron isn't the same as leading a wartime squadron. I get that. But they're not nothing, either—which the attempted diminishment of service-related experience necessarily implies. I don't know how anyone can justify using it against one person and not the other.

Clark isn't anywhere in purple heart bandage territory, but I really don't want to hear this crap. And neither should anyone who wants to see Obama elected. As Chris Cillizza says: "Any day John McCain is able to talk about his military service and remind people of the sacrifices he has made for the country is a good day for the Republican candidate."

And, ya know, even people who don't want to see Obama elected should care about this stuff, if they care about how deeply, depressingly integrity-free our electoral process has become.

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