Once again, Barack Obama has swung at a hanging curveball and fouled it off instead of hitting a home run.
When Wes Clark said of John McCain on the Sunday morning talk shows that McCain’s military and POW experiences don’t uniquely qualify him to be President, Clark was exactly right. There are lots of soldiers who were great soldiers, but being a great soldier doesn’t make somebody a great President. Quite honestly, I don’t understand what the flap is about Clark’s comment–it seems blindingly obvious to me.
It’s no surprise the Republicans went haywire over it. I mean, the ONLY thing McCain has going for him is that experience, and it’s no surprise that the Republicans would attack anybody who called it into question. They’ve been preparing this line of response for years now, accusing anybody who opposes the occupation of Iraq of being a traitor, of not “supporting the troops,” and so on. The strategy is very clear. We can’t question McCain’s leadership skills, or his sanity, or his policy positions or anything else because he’s a “war hero,” and questioning any “war hero” is seditious. QED.
Anyway, so this whole flap offered Barack Obama a chance to say two things that needed saying. First, he needed to affirm Clark’s comment, which is the most correct thing I’ve heard anybody say during this whole campaign season. And second, he needed to call attention to the strategy, that the GOP will hide any of McCain’s shortcomings behind a POW flag, as if somehow he’s unassailable because he lived through something terrible.
Instead, Obama did neither. He ran away from Wesley Clark as fast as his legs could carry him. He all but accused Clark of being unpatriotic, which is crap (Clark has a war record just as impressive as McCain’s), and he allowed the GOP to get away with that claim (military service trumps all else) yet again.
What he needed to say, in simple terms, was, “I don’t know why we’re talking about this. Wes Clark is exactly right. He didn’t attack McCain’s patriotism or discredit his service. He made a simple point that McCain’s service doesn’t grant him a cakewalk into the White House. What’s hard about that?”
But no. I understand that Obama feels the need to out-patriot the right wing, but in doing so, he’s allowing them to frame his lack of military/foreign policy experience against McCain’s. That’s not going to help him any. Neither will he be helped by hanging his allies out to dry, especially when those allies can go toe to toe with his opponent.
John Kerry did the same thing in ’04. W kept tossing him softballs, and he kept whiffing on them. I’m deeply, deeply disturbed to see it happening again, so soon, so recognizably, from somebody who should know better.
This isn’t about “elevating the discourse” or “playing politics.” It’s about making a simple point. John McCain may have been a model pilot, a model commander, a model prisoner (or not–who knows?), but none of those promise great Presidents.