What a remarkably silly story. And it’s probably even sillier that I comment on it, knowing how silly it is, but the rhetoric out there is just amazing. Wes Clark was on Face the Nation, often referred to as “that show that’s on Sunday mornings after you’ve already left the house to actual do something with your weekend,” and seems to have opened a bee’s nest of controversy by pointing out something rather innocuous and obvious:
But what did Clark actually say? In the course of arguing that military service alone doesn’t qualify you to be a commander in chief — a topic Clark himself knows something about — he said: “I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”
And of course, the McCain camp is shrieking like a teenage girl over the unfairness of it all! Why, what could be better hands-on learning to be president than sitting in a tiger cage? The only better thing I can think of is free-falling in a late-sixties model fighter plane. That’s just like being president. . . sort of. . .
But what’s worse is lefties like those on TPM – both Josh Marshall and the myriad of commenters – who seem to want to insist that this is a cause for Obama to fight, that Obama’s disavowal of Wes’ comments is a capitulation of epic proportions. I realize we’ve all spent ten years watching Democrats capitulate and we all hate it, but seriously folks, pick your battles.
Because there are just some subjects which are untouchable, injuries inflicted that are simply not within the range of polite talk. I’ll do myself the favour of not itemizing that list here, but we all know topics for which there are no good ends, and this happens to be one of them.
Of course, Wes Clark is 100% right: the North Vietnamese probably did not give lessons on International Diplomacy or Macro-economics while John McCain was detained there. They almost certainly did not debate the merits of ethanol nor the weight of scientific data supporting the theory of Global Warming. They probably didn’t practice diplomatic table-seating protocols, town hall meeting debate styles or the intricacies of the Farm Bill. He was in a prison, not a primer school for American politicians. We may regard his heroism as a mark of character, but by itself, it is not a practical qualification for being president.
The fact remains, however, that the public will always rally around someone on whom the mantle of hero has been bestowed. It is an indelible mark of character, even while the current opinion of the man can and does wane. Such is as much a reflex of our own war-guilt – about all wars, in all times – as it is an expression of support for McCain, and probably more. You can say it sucks, you can say it’s absurd, you can insist its irrelevant, but you cannot change it. And just like Geraldine Ferraro stupidly defending herself on television after making her “Archie Bunker-esque” comments about Barack Obama, trying to swim against that current is folly.
The counter argument generally goes that by giving in to the scream-fest, Obama is codifying the unassailable nature of John McCain’s service as a qualification to be president. Well, that’s true. But that genie is long-since out of the bottle, now, thanks to Wes Clark’s small mistake and Bob Schieffer’s giant leap of hystrionics. It’s not going back in because Obama chooses to fight upstream on Shit Creek.
No, as much as it pains me to see him do it, Barack Obama’s camp is doing the right thing: disavow early, let the steam run out of the story, and move on to the next thing. Better to let this go now and let everybody get back to remembering McSame’s vision of the future. And oh, by the way, fighting this battle isn’t something the Obama campaign is supposed to be doing: this is the kind of thing for his supporters to take up for him.