Gen. Clark makes indisputable point, media go nuts
General Wes Clark, valedictorian of his class at West Point, Rhodes Scholar, with a masters in Military Science, 34 year veteran of the Armed Services including serving as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, appeared on "Face the Nation" yesterday and freaked out the entire major media and other dupes by saying something that's so plainly obvious, so indisputably true, that most pundits and media figures pretended to be utterly shocked and acted as though it was some horrid outrage.
But it wasn't an "outrage", it isn't even disputable.
Since you'll be hearing about this from pundits and news readers taking one tiny line or so and reading it without any context whatsoever, here's exactly what went on between Gen. Wesley Clark and an incredulous Bob Schieffer, who acted as though Clark had announced that he'd just returned from a flight to Mars.
This set the accepted story line in the chattering class that Clark's remarks were somehow startling and unfair.
Let's look in, shall we?
Schieffer: "Well you went so far as to say that John McCain was quote, and these are your words, "untested and untried". I must say, I had to read that twice because you're talking about someone who was a prisoner of war, he was the commander of the largest squadron in the Navy, he's been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for all these many years... how can you say that John McCAIN is untested and untried General?"
Clark: "In matters of national security and 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 any of his official positions.
I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war, he was a hero to me and hundreds of thousands, to millions of others in the armed forces as a prisoner of war. He's been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he's traveled all over the world.
But he hasn't held executive responsibility, that large squadron he commanded in the Navy, it wasn't a war time 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 gonna be able to get this point through or not, do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle this publicly?... he hasn't made those calls Bob.
S: "Well General, could I just interrupt you?"
S: (shaking head incredulously) "I just gotta 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...."
C: "Well I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification for being president."
S: (feigning pure shock) "REALLY!!!????"
C: "Barack Obama is not, he's not running on the fact that he's made these foreign policy pronouncements, he's running on his other strengths. He's running on the strengths of his character, on the strengths of his communication skills, on the strengths of his judgement, and those are qualities that we seek in our national leadership."
A few important points to take away:
1. Clark didn't make the remark (that's going to be repeated endlessly) out of thin air. It was a direct response to Schieffer's suggesting that somehow getting shot down is one of the things that makes McCain qualified to be president. As you watch coverage, see how many times this crucial context is omitted and whether the challenging remark by Schieffer that Clark was responding is mentioned at all.
2. The ability of the press and campaigns to spin, distort, and simply confuse a simple statement is never-ending and breathtaking. Within the first day, reporters and pundits, including those who lean to the left were characterizing this remark from Clark as:
a.) "Demeaning", "attacking", dismissing, or "bashing" McCain's military service. (despite Clark specifically explaining he was not and would never do so.)
b.) Questioning McCain's patriotism.
All of the above is patently false, as a simple read shows. Yet this is the story line that is routinely followed.
Clark had previously said:
"Everybody admires John McCain's service as a fighter pilot, his courage as a prisoner of war. There's no issue there. He's a great man and an honorable man. But having served as a fighter pilot — and I know my experience as a company commander in Vietnam — that doesn't prepare you to be commander in chief in terms of dealing with the national strategic issues that are involved. It may give you a feeling for what the troops are going through in the process, but it doesn't give you the experience first hand of the national strategic issues."
First of all, let's take the line that's causing everyone to wet their pants.
"Well I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification for being president."
This is an undeniable truth, is it not?
And if that does qualify you, I bet that comes as news to all the other pilots who have been shot down and were fortunate enough to survive.
If stating that simple and undeniable truth is so outrageous, "unfair", and out of line, then it should be easy to argue the point from the opposite position.
So try to make a good, solid argument that flying a fighter plane and getting shot down and captured, in and of itself, actually DOES qualify someone to be President of the United States.
I'm all ears.
Since that argument can't be made, at least not very well, then it stands to say that Clark was exactly right. The whole idea that McCain somehow is some master war leader simply due to the "hero" story is pure bunk. That's all Clark was pointing out.
McCain's war time experience doesn't give him any more or less ability to command the entire armed forces, nor does it somehow prove that he has the temperament, judgement, and wisdom to be a prudent and able commander-in-chief. Period.
Does surviving say, a car accident qualify you to be president?
Does falling into enemy hands and getting captured while on patrol instantly make you Presidential material?
How about if you happened to be driving a heavy truck in Viet Nam and were severely injured when you lost control and crashed it into a tree? Is that your ticket to be qualified to be president of the United States?
How is that any different from McCain's experience, aside from the fact that he spent time as a POW?
And Meika Brezinski or however her name is spelled, the morning blond on MSNBC, kept expressing her breathless wonderment and amazement that anyone would dare question McCain's war hero tale. How COULD he touch something so sacred as this whole idea of John McCain as a hero and supposed military expert? Why, that's breaking the rules! You don't mess with myths baby!
She repeatedly asked why anyone would want to go after that area that's seen as McCain's main strength!! This just baffled her to no end.
Gee. Why in the world would anyone do something like that? Why would you ever say anything that questions your opponents supposed strength? Derrrrr.
But of course, there was none of this shock and outrage when Republican attacked a candidate who had also served heroically in Vietnam and had been wounded more than once in the line of fire. No, when the right launched a massive lie campaign designed precisely to attack that aspect of the candidate, these air-heads didn't feign outrage. Not a bit. They treated it like legitimate news.
But how dare anyone say ANYTHING about the hero John McCain and the nice fairy tale that essentially defines him? Why, I never!
Former Bush Chief of Staff Andy Card actually said that being a POW demonstrated that McCain had the ability to be .... lonely.... and that's a qualification for being president. Yes, he actually said that on MSNBC this morning.
Well Andy. Then there's one hell of a lot of people out there qualified to be president. Just pick someone at random off of Match.com and they're ready to go on day one.
They all concurred with Andrea Mitchell by saying that what Clark said was "dumb" and a bad move. I'm not so sure.
What Clark said is 100% absolutely true. People get that. Flying a plane, getting shot down, and being held captive does NOT in any way make a person any more or less fit to be President of the United States.
Sure, honor his service and feel for his horrible experience, as Clark and everyone else obviously do.
McCain barely made it out of the Naval Academy at the bottom of his class despite of, or more likely because, both his Dad and Grandfather were Admirals, got into flight school, and then got picked off and captured.
Why pretend this tale somehow makes him (or anyone else) more qualified to be commander in chief?
His service on the Senate Armed Services Committee probably gives him more credentials than that.
So why the freaking out?
Zach Roth writing in The Columbia Journalism Review says it better, pointing out the media's crazy habit of assessing every "mock outrage" in terms of its value as a political move, utterly ignoring whether it's actually true or not.
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.
**UPDATE** Obama addressed this comment, though not naming Clark, and bought into the distortion completely by appearing to disavow Clark's statements as if they somehow demeaned McCain's service. He did so today in an address on the subject of patriotism and its use and abuse for political purposes, certainly an important subject and one which needs to be addressed.
I find it disappointing however that Obama felt the need to run for political cover on this, since doing so implies that even he is buying into the meme that Clark was somehow impugning McCain's patriotism and/or military service, which Clark clearly did not.
Several retired military and organizations such as VoteVets.org have come out in full support of Clark and his remarks, even starting a petition of support.