Clark’s Recklessness?

Ambinder from the Atlantic reckons it better left unsaid and Lopez from the NRO the calls it a smear on McCain. We are of course talking about General Wesley Clark’s comments on Sunday.

“I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.”

The hyperventilating is quite predictable and Obama will no doubt remind everyone of McCain’s proud and honourable service. But the problem is that Clark was careful to do this himself once you look at the context. Clark is no Wright! He has a much more distinguished military record himself even if it didn’t involve a tour of the Hanoi Hilton. The risk for McCain and the republicans in overreacting like this is that they will give Clark and Obama the opportunity to drive home the point that Clark is trying to get across. That ‘getting into a fighter plane and being shot down’ isn’t a qualification for becoming president, something that McCain supporters don’t seem to understand. To be sure it does no harm, but it isn’t a qualification, and to say so is not to smear McCain (unlike John Kerry’s swift-boating).

Check out the interview.

Notice how sentimental we are and how the media amplifies this. Shorn of its political context (and the context Clark is careful to provide) the above statement is unremarkable to the point of banality.

Update: Andrew Sullivan has a pretty histrionic reaction with Swiftboating McCain; I wonder whether he has even watched the interview.

Update II: I draw people’s attention to my previous post where I point out that Obama’s comforting of distressed citizen in front of the cameras couldn’t be (very strong) evidence of Obama’s compassion. This article is very much in the same line.

Update III: Obama has agreed with Robert that this was going nowhere and Andrew Sullivan has moderated his comments, agreeing that it was just bad politics. So we are all on the same page.

Update IV: Sullivan is reporting a ‘Clark-lash’; folks feel that Clark was unfairly dumped on (I do) and he links to an excellent explanation of what Clark was getting at and why it certainly wasn’t any swift-boat attack.  (Why so many pundits thought Clark was attacking McCain’s record or character remains a mystery to me; the McCain campaign reaction must have queered their whole analysis; it looks as if McCain is holding on to his base, at least for the while.)

5 responses to “Clark’s Recklessness?

  1. And you and Clark entirely miss the point, which is why it will backfire on Obama. Clark is speaking about professional qualifications, but that is not what McCain’s POW experience represents. McCain’s experience as a POW shows character, courage, an indomitable spirit. It speaks to character qualifications. If you think that such petty sneering by a career military man like Clark makes for good politics, you’re not getting the big picture, as they say.

    Seeing that Obama has no military experience, no executive experience, and precious little legislative experience, his campaign should tread very carefully on the qualifications question.


    [I have edited this comment to remove material questioning McCain’s character. It may or may not be a legitimate line of inquiry elsewhere but I just don’t want that kind of discussion here. I hope folks will understand that it is just a blog policy thing and not a reflection on anyone. — Chris]

    Obama was smart enough and had enough common sense to get it right about Iraq despite having less “experience” than McCain.

  3. Robert: all good points, and I think everyone would agree that McCain’s experience should be honoured on for the reasons you mention (but why were the attacks against Kerry allowed to proceed).

    The point that Clark is making is that the McCain camp are presuming to trump Obama’s inexperience with McCain’s war record and this was the context in which Clark made his comment, but he was careful to respect McCain’s record on the grounds you mentioned.

    For the reasons you have given–that they can only lose on this–the Obama campaign may well back off.

    The reaction–that this is the swift-boating of McCain I think is just a bit OTT (see Sullivan), and perhaps not a little bit ironic given the swift-boating of Kerry was a cynical campaign to trash the military record and character of a decorated ex-POW.

    If I thought Clark was attacking the character of McCain in any way on this then I would say he would deserve the criticism. I can’t see it though. The issue is all about McCain’s national security experience, and the point that the Obama campaign are trying to make is that the gulf between McCain and Obama on the issue looks a lot larger than it is. It strikes me that that is a perfectly respectable argument to make–even if you find the efforts laughable and self-defeating.

  4. Chris

    The point about the Swift Boat attacks against Kerry is that they were not orchestrated by the Bush campaign, but were a product of men Kerry served with in Vietnam. They were “allowed to proceed” because we don’t silence free speech in the US. People from candidates past do come back to haunt them. Remember Gennifer Flowers? You can’t chalk up everything to the machinations of political operatives.

    Back in the 1990s a Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota was undone weeks before the election when some young adult women came forward to say that when they were 13 years old they were at a pool party at the candidate’s house, and he tried to pull their bikini bottoms off. The candidate and his supporters cried foul, and tried to pin it on the democrat candidate, but they had nothing to do with it. This kind of stuff happens.

  5. Of course stuff happens and people do emerge from your past to cause trouble. And indeed Gennifer Flowers was indeed a warning of things to come. These things should be placed in the public domain.

    I do take the view however view that Swift-boat attacks were a cynical campaign to neutralize the embarrassing (from Bush’s perspective) comparison between Kerry’s and Bush’s Vietnam service record. If anything substantive had come of it then there would be something to talk about, but I don’t think anyone making any effort to view the case objectively believes that Kerry wasn’t every bit as much of the genuine article as McCain. That not everyone was in his fan club, or that some should subsequently take issue with his anti-war stance should surprise nobody. To exploit those sentiments in that way was (in my opinion) was not pretty.

    As you say stuff happens but we can (and should) criticize that kind of politics (and of course Swift Vets was a 527, as will be the ones that go after McCain and Obama–though I really hope they don’t). My point is that this kind of thing has nothing to do with the point that Clark is making, but because of a powerful sentimental narrative that has built up around McCain there is precious little in the way of rational discussion of this, even it seems from the pundits.

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