Jul 032008

“I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.”—Gen. Wesley Clark (ret.)

I’m finding it difficult to see why this statement is considered to be at all controversial, despite the firestorm it has ignited in the conservative set. It is not an attack on John McCain’s service nor is it a smear against him. I could almost find the outraged Republican blowback on this quote to be funny, if I didn’t have a memory. Instead, I find it positively revolting.

It amazes me that anyone has to defend this quote at all, as our history has amply demonstrated that military service has no bearing on Presidential quality. Yes, the Army gave us Washington and Eisenhower. It also gave us such perennial entries on the shortlist for worst President in U.S. history as Franklin Pierce and Ulysses S. Grant. Even successful leadership at the rank of General does not indicate that one will perform admirably as a President. For Clark, a military man (and former Presidential candidate) himself, to point this out hardly qualifies as a smear. It’s fair to say this comment is unnecessary, but absent any additional context, the histrionics of the McCain campaign are just unwarranted foolishness.

However, we are not without additional context, because in an amazing coincidence, one of the men delivering those histrionics was Bud Day. Yes, the very same Bud Day who was a member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and appeared in one of their commercials. This man, who through ignorance or foolishness attacked Clark’s perfectly sensible statement, had the gall to follow it up with a defense of the Swift Boat smears as “the truth”.

That’s why I can’t just dismiss the McCain response as a good laugh. The outrage, feigned or not, of conservatives is positively revolting in light of the Swift Boat campaign. To see those who winked at the SBVT’s outright slander of an American serviceman treat Clark’s statement as some kind of blood libel is a repellent display of hypocrisy. For McCain, who claimed to repudiate the SBVT tactics, to employ SBVT members and take their money in this campaign only heightens my disgust. The maverick, the straight-talker, the man for whom I felt a good deal of respect all seem to have perished in the pursuit of the Presidency.

McCain’s experiences in the Vietnam War, heroic as they were, have no bearing on his qualifications for the Presidency. His reaction to Clark’s statement of this obvious fact, however, has me more firmly convinced than ever that he lacks the judgment, the restraint, and the integrity to lead this nation.