When retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, on behalf of the Obama campaign, criticized John McCain's qualifications to be Commander in Chief this week - based on McCain's rank in the Navy and command experience - I initially laughed so hard my sides hurt.
The general said in essence that McCain hadn't been high enough up the command ladder to really be a leader, and that being shot down, captured, tortured, and spending five years as a POW in North Vietnam don't really mean he understands war.
Basically, it was a retired military version of one-upmanship. "I have more stars than you do, I have more medals than you do, mine is bigger than yours" - so to speak. Clark's comments should have been ignored as nothing more than sour grapes, an extension of the annual Army-Navy football game, but they weren't.
(And don't tell me Obama didn't know about it, and was merely the unaware recipient of the good general's largesse. Nothing, and I mean nothing, goes on at that level of politics without the campaign knowing about it. Yes, Obama renounced the general's comments, but that is just a tactic to get the negative message out at the same time the candidate appears to remove himself from it. If you really think he wasn't in on this you are either suffering from a 60s counter-culture brain cell loss, or in total denial.)
I wrote about expected attacks on McCain's record during the South Carolina primary campaign earlier this year, and said then that McCain would have to be prepared to deal with them. It comes as no surprise and gives me no comfort to know that I was right, and I am not at all pleased that the Democrats have again used a former military man to attack McCain's qualifications based on his service.
Because after I thought about it for a bit, I realized that once again the Democrats are taking another shot at the military in general, and Vietnam Veterans in particular. Unfortunately they are using a bitter retired general as a dupe to lift his leg on the very troops he once led, and the general went along with it.
The mainstream media was filled with a 'spontaneous' eruption of comparisons to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who exposed John Kerry as a poser and embellisher in the last presidential election. (Once again, if you really think anything about this was spontaneous and unplanned, I have a bridge for sale in downtown Manhattan. Call me. We'll talk price.)
It is unfortunate that any former military leader would be so unaware, so uniformed and so bitter that they would become a willing pawn in an effort to discredit a candidate by attacking what can only be described as honorable service. The end result did not work against McCain in the first place, but does dredge up the old hatreds and animosities of the 60s and 70s spewed by the anti-Vietnam War crowd of that era.
But there is a big difference between John McCain this year and John Kerry four years ago. There were and still are legitimate questions on what Kerry did or didn't do in Vietnam, and especially what he did to Vietnam veterans in the early 70s between lying to Congress and holding fake "hearings" that labelled an entire generation as out-of-control mindless serial killers.
Because of his wildly embellished stories about his service, and what he said about me and my fellow Vietnam Veterans afterward, I am not a fan of John Kerry. You can not read this column and mistake anything I say here as support for him. I have good reason.
I spent the early years in my media career at the Hartford Courant listening to colleagues spouting urban myths about Vietnam vets - straight from Kerry's statements - as truth. When I first was shopping the manuscript for Masters of the Art to publishers and agents in the late 80s I ran into a brick wall of opposition because it didn't follow the formulaic anti-war, anti-American diatribes that passed for literature at that time.
I was even called a liar, and a "baby-killer and murderer" by a Manhattan agent who wasn't satisfied with merely sending me a rejection slip. Screw him. The book is still here and the Courant is imploding. Sorry 'bout that.
Unlike McCain, John Kerry's actions both in Vietnam and afterward were fair game for the criticism that he encountered when he ran for president.
On the other hand, John McCain never called me a baby killer. When he came home from Vietnam he worked to regain his physical health, he stayed in the Navy for a time and then returned to civilian life and ultimately entered politics. How that disqualifies him from being president escapes me.
Based on Clark's attack on McCain, how the hell was John Kerry qualified to be president? Was it because he got some medals that were awarded based on questionable accounts of claimed injuries and claimed heroics? Let's not go down that road again here, other than to say that if the officers in my helicopter squadron had done what Kerry did to get a Silver Star, they would have been court martialed and for good reason.
As much as I disagree with Clark's comments or taking the lead in this issue, I realize that he did have a solid military career, was wounded - for real - in Vietnam, and had a mostly distinguished career up until the end when he was removed from command during the Clinton administration. I really don't like the commentary on the news attacking Clark based on his military career any more than Clark's comments about McCain.
It still amounts to bashing the military, again, but using military people to do it.
You can agree with McCain or disagree with McCain, but ultimately you have to decide whether you will vote for him based on what he can bring to the table as chief executive of this country, not on whether he had sufficient rank or command service in the military 30 years ago.
The truth is, Obama is so short on executive qualities that he is desperate to keep the spotlight off of his lack of expertise, and keep it on trumped up issues regarding McCain's qualifications.
Obama has zero military experience, so I guess in Clark's world that should disqualify him entirely. Frankly, I believe any form of honorable military service is a big plus when a person wants to run this country, since the president is the commander-in-chief and may have to send troops to battle. It isn't a deal breaker, but it does matter.
Obama also has no executive level experience, and actually is pretty thin on legislative experience too. Pumping up his resume to claim responsibility for ending welfare, for instance, when he actually opposed President Bill Clinton on that issue, is a prime example.
Obama has been searching the country looking for surrogates and possible running mates to backfill his lack of qualifications, but that in itself bothers me. Vice presidents are supposed to be qualified to step in without missing a beat if the president is incapacitated.
The vice president shouldn't be seen as an extension of the president who can handle the parts of the job that the president can't.
Obama has been interviewing other genuine heroes, such as former Marine officer and Vietnam War veteran Jim Webb, the Democratic Senator from Virginia, as his potential VP running mate. But as much as I like and respect Webb, he had less rank than McCain and, thus, under Clark's reasoning, less capability to be commander in chief.
There is a lot of contradictory information and a lot of hypocrisy running amok here.
What this all comes down to is another tawdry episode in which America's veterans are again being maligned by the Democrats for minimal political gains.
John McCain has nothing to apologize for in terms of his rank or command experience and how it relates to his quest for the presidency.
But Wesley Clark should apologize to every American veteran for bringing this issue up in the first place, and allowing himself to be a pawn of a political candidate who has shown once again that nothing and no one will be spared if he thinks it will earn him a few percentage points in the polls.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008