According to the wingnut blogs, General Wesley Clark has exceeded the bounds of decency. He suggested that being shot out of the sky isn’t tantamount to leadership. While no one doubts John McCain’s courage as a prisoner, Clark merely expressed his opinion that McCain's military service is not necessarily synonymous with Presidential leadership ability of the complex kind needed to lead the United States.
Here’s what Clark said to Bob Schieffer about John McCain:
CLARK: 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.
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 this publicly? He hasn't made those calls,
SCHIEFFER: Can I just interrupt you? I have to say,
Barack Obama hasn't had any of these experiences
either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and
gotten shot down.
CLARK: I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and
getting shot down is a qualification to become
Ezra Klein points out that even McCain himself doesn’t say his wartime captivity and courage amounts to a lock on the Oval Office:
John McCain would be the first to tell you that getting shot
down doesn't prepare you for the presidency. When folks ask
him about his war heroism, he's even got a stock reply: "It
doesn't take a great deal of effort to get shot down," he
Let’s not forget that we’re deciding on who should lead the country, not lobbying to reward the most valiant candidate with the Presidency for courage under duress. Anyone who wants to gut Wesley Clark on this needs to take a breath before accusing him of a lack of patriotism.
UPDATE— What seems to have been overlooked in this flap is the strident statement by Bob Schieffer, supposedly the newsman in the exchange. In making the controversial remark, Clark is responding to Schieffer’s interruption, in which the interviewer posits that Obama hasn’t been shot down while serving his country, as if this somehow disqualifies him from leadership.
McCain’s courage and patriotism under torture in Vietnam are indicators of good character and personal toughness. These are admirable things in a person and would be positive things in a President. They don’t mean he is a great leader or a visionary. They don’t bear on judgment. His patriotism is not exclusive of other kinds of patriotism and his military service is not management experience. Clark, as another military man, it seems to me, is within his experience to comment on that distinction.
Schieffer, on the other hand, stirred the pot in the way he set up a false dichotomy between those who have been shot down in service to this country and those whose service has been of a different kind. The whole ‘controversy’ is ridiculous. Clark is one of the few people who could compare military management and political leadership experience with a politician/war hero like McCain. What Clark is responding to is Schieffer inappropriately tying war heroism to the Presidency; he wasn't discussing whether McCain's service record is admirable.