Wesley Clark was absolutely right. Right, right, 2+2=4 right, Copernicus over Ptolemy right. And Barack Obama, while right to refuse to apologize or disavow (except through a spokesman), wasn’t entirely right – Wesley Clark’s comments were not “inartful.” Not at all.
Here’s what the General said:
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-‘
Bob Schieffer: Well-
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: ‘ -it publicly.’ He hasn’t made those calls, Bob.
Bob Schieffer: Well, well, General, maybe-
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: So-
Bob Schieffer: Could I just interrupt you. If-
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Sure.
Bob 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-
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President.
That last part about the fighter plane is what has really gotten Clark in trouble this week, primarily because it has been fresh water drizzled onto the parched lips of the post-Democratic primary 24-hour news media. I mean, you can only squeeze so many broadcast days out of analyzing Michelle Obama’s appearance on The View, right? And hey, here’s an actual surrogate saying something that can be misconstrued as controversial! Let’s beat this one to death all week, all those in favor say “Aye!”
Well let’s take that last quote: “I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President.”
He’s right. It’s not. Let me tell you what John McCain getting shot down in a fighter plane means, what John McCain getting taken as a prisoner of war means, what John McCain refusing to leave the Hanoi Hilton even though Charlie is opening the door unless the rest of his men came with him: it means John McCain has gigantic balls. Gigantic balls matched only by a sense of honor and duty not likely present in very many of his contemporaries in the Congress.
Now, I like duty and honor. And frankly, when it comes to picking a candidate, I can be very ball size-oriented. It bothers me that Barack Obama had a civil conversation with Bill Clinton recently and asked for his help on the campaign trail. Doing that instead of saying “Hey, go fuck yourself you race-baiting Dixie lech, half the state of Ohio thinks I’m a gay Muslim because of you” is, to me, symptomatic of a ball size deficiency. So I’m in no way dismissing the fact that John McCain’s conduct during his imprisonment, and in fact his entire military record, is something to be honored. I think he’s a bad. ass.
But the fact remains – courage, the kind of courage required to sustain one’s self throughout such an ordeal, does not automatically translate into the requisite executive aptitude necessary to be the President of the United States. For Clark to point that out is blunt, certainly. Military service, especially the kind that leaves a man unable to lift his arms all the way above his head because he has been tortured by the enemy, has been so elevated in this country’s culture as to be sacrosanct. When a person utters anything other than unqualified praise, then, it’s risky. But you have to look beyond context in this particular circumstance, and get right to content. That’s why Clark’s comments, when you shake off the politically-charged environment in which they were uttered, weren’t “inartful,” much less wrong. They were simply correct, and worth listening to. If you want to promote McCain’s executive credentials, you can point to his time in the Senate working with past Presidents, or running his Senate office, or handling foreign relations matters. But you don’t get to say the guy can govern because he’s a tough son of a gun and not expect that rationale to be challenged by anybody with the capacity for critical thought.