On Wesley Clark and Other Irrelevancies

I will freely admit that one of my many failings as a political journalist and commentator is that, deep down in the nether regions, I really don't care about 90% of symbolic kerfuffles that seize the frontal lobes of campaign coverage for days and weeks at a time. I remember once at the 2004 Democratic Convention going on Hugh Hewitt's show and having him ask me, in high excitement, about wasn't it true that Michael Moore sitting next to Jimmy Carter in the rafters was going to be the biggest single story of this campaign?, and me just staring at him blankly, trying to imagine what it must be like to think that way. (Hewitt, I should add, very well might have been right; who knows!)

That's kind of how I feel about the ongoing hullaballoo over Wesley Clark saying this:

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 the Navy that he commanded - that wasn't a wartime squadron. [...]

I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president. [...]

John McCain is running his campaign on his experience and how his experience would benefit him and our nation as president. That experience shows courage and commitment to our country - but it doesn't include executive experience wrestling with national policy or go-to-war decisions. And in this area his judgment has been flawed - he not only supported going into a war we didn't have to fight in Iraq, but has time and again undervalued other, nonmilitary elements of national power that must be used effectively to protect America.

This is one of those marvelous passages where just about every statement (as far as I can quickly reckon) is true, yet I disagree with it. That is to say, it's true that McCain has rarely held executive responsibility (he's an aviator-turned-legislator, after all), and never in a theater of war (though I would argue that his leadership as a POW was extremely impressive, even if he wasn't at the top of the chain of command in Hanoi), but ... who gives a rat's ass? McCain did lead a squadron, and by most accounts did a bang-up job of it, and at any rate, since when is holding a command during wartime a prerequisite for faithfully executing the laws of this land? Command-holder Wesley Clark, self-evidently, is an atrocious politician, and the presidency (I think) requires at least non-incompetence politically. McCain's father and grandfather held commands during war, and they would have been lousy presidents, largely for the same one reason that troubles me most about John Sidney III, at least the post-1997 version − when anyone yelled "war!" they immediately replied "how high?"

As for all the high dudgeon and questioning-his-patriotism and gorbledy-fark salad: Well, you kids have your fun. I hear that Darth Cheney McChimptard canceled the solar power, and Michael Moore is still fat!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Mike Volpe||

    I agree that many times journalists and pundits blow stories out of proportion largely because they take themselves as well as the story too seriously. Though, frankly, your cynical attitude about how nothing is important is really no less ugly.

    Care or don't care, it is entirely up to you. That said, you should be troubled by the cheap shot, because if even McCain's heroism during war is still not sacred then what is. This was a despicable cheap shot and the reason that politicians continue to insist on taking such cheap shots is because they get away with it. One reason they get away with it is folks like you show apathy. If you are perfectly all right with the record of a war hero being trashed that is your business however I for one believe it is beyond the pale.

    That said, this is one of the dumbest political moves I have ever witnessed. The one place the Democrats should have tried to stay away from is McCain record as a hero. Instead, they have opened the door for McCain to use his biggest advantage over Obama, the patriotic gap. He should hit back hard and in the process point out the startling differential in patriot resumes of the two candidates. Here was my view on the matter...

    http://theeprovocateur.blogspot.com/2008/03/obama-mccain-wright-and-my-favorite.html

  • ||

    I really don't care about 90% of symbolic kerfuffles that seize the frontal lobes of campaign coverage for days and weeks at a time.

    You would care if you knew that the fate of Western Civilization hangs in the balance on these matters.

  • Elemenope||

    That said, you should be troubled by the cheap shot, because if even McCain's heroism during war is still not sacred then what is?

    Nothing. Nor should anything be, when one is running for office. Someone should be able to ask the question "What does being a Naval Aviator have to do with being prepared to be president? What does being a POW have to do with the same?" without being shouted down by slavering frothing monkeys.

    I was glad upon glad that someone in public prominence (Clark) said aloud something along those lines. He *didn't* question McCain's heroism or patriotism, but merely its relevance to the race. It's a reasonable question.

  • Cornholio||

    McCain got shot down, surrendered, and then decided to remain with his captors when they offered to release him.

    No hero by any stretch - this McCain fellow. But blindly loyal to someone - exception being his first wife....

  • ||

    I agree with you, but this type of bullshit is what decides elections. It is also what keeps the O'Reillys and Olbermanns of the world in business.

  • Jon||

    "since when is holding a command during wartime a prerequisite for faithfully executing the laws of this land"

    You missed Clark's point, I think. Watch the whole segment. Clark wasn't saying that such things are requisite for the Presidency. He specifically said that Obama had no such experience, but that he supports him nonetheless. Rather, he was saying that McCain is running on the claim that he is an experience leader in a time of war, and that McCain's record doesn't support that claim.

    And Mike Volpe, attacking a candidate on his "strongest" point is something that has worked remarkably well in the past. That is the Rovian tactic that led to the Swiftboating of Kerry.

  • MJ||

    "That is the Rovian tactic that led to the Swiftboating of Kerry."

    Telling the truth about is such an unfair tactic.

  • Darth Cheney McChimptard||

    That is the Rovian tactic that led to the Swiftboating of Kerry.

    If you had come up with that yourself they might save you a seat between Michael Moore and Jimmy Carter at the convention.

    McInsane's wife is a junkie!

  • Willie Horton||

    Telling the truth about is such an unfair tactic.

    You're full of shit. Even T. Boone Pickens knew they lied.

  • Darth Cheney McChimptard||

    You shouldn't have whistled at that white woman willie.

  • Brett||

    Michael Moore's email address is mmflint. What a self righteous douche...

    Shouldn't wesley clark be in living off the grid in Alaska shooting cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew with a rifle from 1,000 yards like a bad Mark Wahlberg movie? Why is he still around in American politics?

  • Darth Cheney McChimptard||

    Why is he still around in American politics?

    The Democrat Party has a pretty shallow bench of "Patriotic " military types. American Patriots anyways....

  • Kolohe||

    There is a big difference between 'sacred' and 'respected'.

  • Kolohe||

    Like Welch said, Clark is 100% right. What's stupid about Clark's comments is that the same exact thing holds for Obama's resume.

  • Willie Horton||

    Valerie Plame is a better man than any chickenhawk in the GOP. And unlike the Bushpigs, she was actually working to prevent the escalation of WMD.

    The country is catching on to the fake patriotism of the GOP.

  • Elemenope||

    Michael Moore's email address is mmflint. What a self righteous douche.

    He may be self-righteous, but that's hardly evidence. He's *from* Flint.

    Like Welch said, Clark is 100% right. What's stupid about Clark's comments is that the same exact thing holds for Obama's resume.

    The critical distinction being that Obama isn't going around telling people that he'll be a fantastic president just on the strength of his war record (which of course he doesn't have). McCain is. It's awfully silly of you to fault the apple for not tasting like an orange.

  • Seitz||

    What's stupid about Clark's comments is that the same exact thing holds for Obama's resume.

    Which would make a difference if Obama were running on that part of his resume.

  • ||

    What's unfortunate about Clark's statements is that anyone with any shred of intelligence has already asked themselves that question, or at the very least, would not scoff at someone who did.
    So I feel like the comments will only serve to anger those who think that McCain's military service is enough to qualify him to do positively anything (like Mike Volpe up there) - and the just-barely democrats of the same sort.

  • Willie Horton||

    The GOP motto for 08 should be, "Vote McCain - he is NOT a chickenhawk".

    This would rightly separate him from the GOP and re-establish his "maverick" cred.

  • ||

    McCain from the not-so-distant past

    "Absolutely not. History shows that some of our greatest leaders have had little or no military experience- Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Harry Truman was in the artillery in World War I, which was magnificent. Ronald Reagan did most of his active duty in the studio lots in California. It might be a nice thing, but I absolutely don't believe that it's necessary."
    http://mccainsource.com/mccain_fact_check?id=0017

    I believe that military service is the most honorable endeavor an American may undertake. But I've never believed that lack of military service disqualifies one from occupying positions of political leadership or as Commander and Chief. In America, the people are sovereign, and they decide who is and is not qualified to lead us.
    http://www.fas.org/news/usa/1999/09/990907-mccain.htm


    what did Clark say that was any different

  • SIV||

    Obama ought to run on William Ayers war resume

  • Jon||

    "If you had come up with that yourself they might save you a seat between Michael Moore and Jimmy Carter at the convention."

    What the fuck are you talking about, Darth Cheney McChimptard? It was clear that Kerry's wartime service was going to be contrasted to Bush's lack thereof, and they hit Kerry hard (and successfully) on that point.

    Did you take offense to the claim that the tactic was 'Rovian'? As if Rove's strategy doesn't involve that sort of thing? I didn't, mind you, say that Rove was behind them.

  • ||

    Elemenope, MM isn't from poor, working man's Flint. He's from a rich suburb.

  • Elemenope||

    Elemenope, MM isn't from poor, working man's Flint. He's from a rich suburb.

    So. What. He's from *Flint*, regardless of which side of the proverbial tracks in Flint. A guy from Flint can use fucking Flint in his fucking e-mail, and be justified in doing so.

    Fuck, *I* could use Flint in my fucking e-mail address, and I've never even *been* there. Isn't this a libertarian website, or what?

    Yeah, I know. "Drink!"

  • ||

    General Clark is an American hero.

    He spoke the simple truth.

    He was answering questions from the whore media. (I miss the horse)

    Being shot down over Vietnam and taken POW does not qualify one for POTUS.

    Sorry roaches, those are the facts of life.

    General Clark has not been proven wrong by anybody.

    This broo-ha-ha proves that it struck a nerve with the McCain roaches.

    General Clark is a simple American hero who flushed McCain's roaches down the toilet.

  • ||

    Valerie Plame is a better man than any chickenhawk in the GOP. And unlike the Bushpigs, she was actually working to prevent the escalation of WMD.

    The country is catching on to the fake patriotism of the GOP.


    I guess Davis is right about the dems...they really are pissed about the whole Kerry/swift boat thing.

    Anyway they should not be...Kerry lost because he is was left of voters....not because of Swift boats.

  • Warmongering Lunatic||

    "[A]ttacking a candidate on his 'strongest' point is something that has worked remarkably well in the past. That is the Rovian tactic that led to the Swiftboating of Kerry."

    Kerry's strongest point was that he was a war criminal? I mean, we have video of Kerry saying that, in Vietnam, he participated in war crimes. So, every time he brought up that he served in Vietnam, it was as grotesque as having Lynndie England running for office touting her service in Iraq.

    Unless, of course, he was lying on the video-in which case, he came home from serving in Vietnam and proceeded to slander everyone he served with.

    Sure, the first Swift Boat ads played up some stupid shit about medals. Then they stopped doing that, and instead pointed out how Kerry was trying to take credit for service in Vietnam while refusing to take responsibility for the shit he spewed after the war. And that's what destroyed him, not the medal stuff.

  • ||

    Thank you beaumont now I know what to think. Do you have advice on how to make love last?

  • Abdul||

    I got a flyer from an Obama canvasser during the primary that said he had foreign policy experience because he went to elementary school in Indonesia. If Obama supporters think getting hit with a spitball in Jakarta is a qualifier to be president, then getting your teeth knocked out in Hanoi should make you pope, president, and UN secretary general.

  • ||

    McCain got shot down, surrendered, and then decided to remain with his captors when they offered to release him.

    This is actually what is supposed to be done. That is, servicemembers are supposed to reject "special treatment" such as early release in lieu of ensuring their subordinates in captivity are resisting/released. Per the Code of Conduct. I think McCain did the right thing, here.

  • Elemenope||

    This is actually what is supposed to be done. That is, servicemembers are supposed to reject "special treatment" such as early release in lieu of ensuring their subordinates in captivity are resisting/released. Per the Code of Conduct. I think McCain did the right thing, here.

    Yeah he did, and it took a great deal of bravery and guts. I just think that too many people confuse 'bravery' with 'heroism'. Carpet-bombing villages is not heroism; getting shot down is just unlucky; gutsy and risky service while a POW is brave and commendable. But none of it is really 'heroism'.

    Heroism is more along the lines of what Webb did; taking out pillboxes and jumping on grenades for squadmates and that sort of shit. It's a slightly different standard.

  • Abdul||

    getting shot down is just unlucky

    Maybe I'm too obtuse to understand your subtle distinction between bravery and heroism, and why the fuck it even matters, but how is risking death from a anit-aircraft guns different from risking death from machine guns in pillboxes?

  • ||

    Matt,

    It's unfortunate that you typed it up this way:

    [...]

    I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president. [...]



    It makes it appear that Clark was describing McCain's military service as "riding in a fighter plan and getting shot down," when he was repeating Bob Scheiffer's characterization, and HIS argument that such experience made him better qualified to be president than Barack Obama.

  • Elemenope||

    Maybe I'm too obtuse to understand your subtle distinction between bravery and heroism, and why the fuck it even matters, but how is risking death from a anit-aircraft guns different from risking death from machine guns in pillboxes?

    It's really quite simple. In McCain's case, the target of the missions were, predominantly, villages putatively full of non-combatants. In Webb's case, the engagement is with armed soldiers. In McCain's case, he's dodging flak and anti-aircraft fire, which at those ranges is basically a matter of *luck*. Webb, jumping on a grenade that rolled too near his compatriot, is a function of *choice*.

    Are you getting it yet?

    I don't believe in the notion of accidental heroism. Flying sorties over a zone known to have anti-aircraft batteries is brave, to be sure, but getting hit by one is just dumb luck, and that does not a hero make. John Wooing a whole fucking pillbox with a sidearm and a few grenades requires a whole series of choices, all of which could rationally have been chosen the other way.

    The reason why in English we maintain different words with similar meanings is that they don't mean the *same* thing. Normatively, there are slightly different situations in which each use is appropriate. "Brave" and "Honorable" and "Gutsy" and "Heroic" are all related, to be sure, but they are *not* synonyms.

    And in any case, regardless of the qualities that McCain has shown in combat, he has shown precious little of any of it (especially lately) in his role as a legislator, so I don't even see how what person he was forty years ago and what that guy did has *any* relevance to what sort of fucker he is now.

  • Nigel Watt||

    McCain volunteered for a bad war and he's unrepentant about it. He's no hero.

  • Abdul||

    Elemenope,

    Still not getting it, but i think it's because you don't have a point.

    Getting hit by a grenade or flak is not "luck." Someone has to put the grenade or the flak out there. It doesn't just appear on it's own accord like lightning. McCain didn't wake up in a fighter plane surrounded by flak anymore than Webb sleepwalked into a pillbox.

    While Webb might have chosen to risk his life for his comrades in certain moments in combat, McCain risked his life and suffered physical agony for his comrades while in captivity. Somehow, you see some important difference in all of this, something that makes Webb morally superior to McCain. I don't, and I don't think most other people do. You can't quantify acts of heroism, but by any subjective means what both men did is pretty heroic.

    As for the relevance of McCain's POW experience, it shows an admirable quality (courage). Every candidate runs on their admirable qualities (or attributes unadmirable qualities to their opponent). And while any candidate can say that they are brave or patriotic, McCain's or Webb's experiences suggest they have a little more credibility on those issues.

  • ||

    I've got to agree with LMNOP on this one. McCain simply did what would have been expected of him, what I think many of us would have done in his situation. He followed orders and procedures through to the end. He is brave.

    The guy that storms pillboxes, jumps on grenades, goes back for comrades in no-chance situations, all on his own, is doing something I think few of us would have done. He is heroic. There really is a difference.

  • ||

    Flag pins for everybody; that's what patriotism is.

    Being a fucking paper boy is a better qualification for the Presidency than a lifetime of "public service."

    Which of these two self-aggrandizing sociopaths will actually work to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution" if elected? McCain, to my knowledge, has not voiced an opinion on the FISA bill. Obama, after a bit of high rhetoric, has rolled over for the political consultants, because being President is more important to him than being right.

    Which of these two power-mad assholes will work to restore the Fourth Amendment?

  • ||

    As for the political lessons to be learned from military service, the best student was William Tecumseh Sherman.

  • ||

    Elemenope,

    That's all fine, but I'd still say that McCain's refusal to take the release deal his captors offered him, after having been tortured, knowing he would be tortured more, tells us something about his character.

    He did choose that. I don't know if I would have been able to "follow procedure," Citizen Nothing.

    But back to Clark's point - none of that goes to the issue of relevant qualifications for the presidency. McCain doesn't just make a war hero/character argument, he also tries to present his military background as a top resume item. He refers to commanding a squadron as an example of his history of executive leadership - he threw that at Mike Huckabee when he raised the issue in one of the debates.

    Wesley Clark, who held the office Dwight Eisenhower held during WW2, and did so during wartime, can point to his experience as being relevant to being President. I'd go so far as to say that David Patraeus can, as well. John McCain's command background, on the other hand, was never strategic, and never involved coordinating between allies or dealing with non-military issues. Clark and Patraeus have "CEO" experience. McCain was a floor manager.

  • ||

    Which of these two self-aggrandizing sociopaths

    Let's not throw the "s" word around callously.

  • Fluffy||

    Since this has to be repeated in every thread on this subject, every word Volpe says in that first comment would only be relevant if Clark had somehow impugned or demeaned McCain's service.

    He didn't do that.

    Words have actual meanings, whether the worthless cunts backing McCain want them to or not.

  • ||

    That said, this is one of the dumbest political moves I have ever witnessed. The one place the Democrats should have tried to stay away from is McCain record as a hero. Instead, they have opened the door for McCain to use his biggest advantage over Obama, the patriotic gap.

    Concern troll is concerned.

  • Elemenope||

    Getting hit by a grenade or flak is not "luck." Someone has to put the grenade or the flak out there. It doesn't just appear on it's own accord like lightning. McCain didn't wake up in a fighter plane surrounded by flak anymore than Webb sleepwalked into a pillbox.

    Citizen Nothing said it better than I did. One did what he was expected to do, the other went far beyond what was expected. The duty that McCain executed was *extremely difficult*, but Webb's actions were supererogatory AND *extremely difficult*. Hence, one is a hero, and the other is "merely" brave.

    Look, to avoid misunderstanding, I'm not trying to minimize the amazing courage and guts it took to make the choice to remain in captivity. I agree, it says something about the man he was (whether he's anything like that guy *now* is up to debate). But the character of that choice is fundamentally different in degree than the series of choices that Webb made, and I think it dilutes the meaning of the term 'hero' to apply it to both.

  • TallDave||

    Looks like Wes is joining Rev Wright, the Kossacks, various aides, and Barack's grandmother in being thrown under the Obama Bus.

    W00t w00t! Roll on, you crazy bus! Merging right, watch out!

  • joe||

    Barack Obama on Wesley Clark's statement:

    "I think in at least one publication it was reported that my comments yesterday about Senator McCain were in a response to General Clark. I think my staff will confirm that was in a draft of that speech that I had written two months ago.

    Also says Clark does not owe McCain an apology...McCain campaign accuses Obama of repudiating his own repudiation, and says, "Apparently Barack Obama now thinks that smear attacks on John McCain's military service are fair game."

    There's that reality-based, no-spin-zone grasp of the truth that makes you so well-respected, ToolDave.

  • joe||

    "I guess my question is why, given all the vast numbers of things that we've got to work on, that that would be a top priority of mine?" Obama said, responding to a reporter who asked the candidate why he hadn't called on Wesley Clark to apologize for his remarks yesterday. "I'm happy to have all sorts of conversations about how we deal with Iraq and what happens with Iran, but the fact that somebody on a cable show or on a news show like Gen. Clark said something that was inartful about Sen. McCain I don't think is probably the thing that is keeping Ohioans up at night."

  • Matt Welch||

    In McCain's case, the target of the missions were, predominantly, villages putatively full of non-combatants.

    I think that's false. When he was shot down, it was A) a rare case of venturing into Hanoi; B) a military, not civilian, target, and C) one of the few sorties he flew in the war.

  • Elemenope||

    I think that's false. When he was shot down, it was A) a rare case of venturing into Hanoi; B) a military, not civilian, target, and C) one of the few sorties he flew in the war.

    Thank you for the correction.

    However, it is tough to undersell just how much the US pursued a policy of "bomb anything that moves" during that war. I do not wish to attribute *particular* crimes to particular people, though, if they did not participate in them.

    Mea culpa. Doesn't change my observation of his 'heroism'. He still only ever did what he was told, even if what he was told to do was difficult.

  • GG||

    I'm sure McCain appreciates whatever press coverage he can get, considering. Plus, he gets the chance to play the victim and it takes attention off the fact that he's a self-contradicting, authoritarian shitbag.

  • ||

    "So. What. He's from *Flint*, regardless of which side of the proverbial tracks in Flint. A guy from Flint can use fucking Flint in his fucking e-mail, and be justified in doing so." - Elemenope

    Be justified? In other words, "same difference"? Those are some pretty god-damned wide proverbial tracks separating Flint, MI from Davison, MI. MM just uses Flint out of convenience, right? Has nothing to do with trying to project a certain false image about himself? NOT. His movies suck too.

    Races in Davison:
    White Non-Hispanic (94.9%)
    Hispanic (2.4%)
    Two or more races (1.6%)
    American Indian (1.4%)
    Black (0.5%)
    Estimated median household income in 2005: $37,900
    Estimated median house/condo value in 2005: $133,900

    Races in Flint:
    Black (53.3%)
    White Non-Hispanic (40.0%)
    Two or more races (3.1%)
    Hispanic (3.0%)
    American Indian (2.2%)
    Other race (1.1%)
    Estimated median household income in 2005: $25,972
    Estimated median house/condo value in 2005: $64,600

    from www.city-data.com

  • Elemenope||

    Estimated median household income in 2005: $37,900

    This is your idea of wealthy?

    Thank fucking God you aren't in charge of the tax code...or anything else important. Are you?

    And other than that, yeah, it doesn't really matter. If he wants to portray himself as coming from the town down the street which is slightly poorer than his own, I don't give a shit, and the fact that you *do* give a shit is a sign of derangement (if not of mental faculties, at least of priorities).

    In fact, I put it to you. Why *do* you care what Michael Moore's e-mail address is?

  • ||

    There is a world of difference between living off $25K and living off $37K. Twelve grand is the difference between just barely living, and living with some kind of quality of life and/or dignity.

    If you aren't smart enough to realize there is a sizeable difference between living in a $64,600 home and living in a $133,900 home, then I hope you aren't in charge of anything important either, asshole.

    I don't care what the liar's email address is, but I find his bio to be about as honest as his films. And I commented on it. Oh, no!!!!

    Who's deranged here? You go off on some cock-sucker fit because I think Michael Moore is intentionally deceptive. Jesus fuck, grow up and get a life.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement