The worst aspect of
this race for president is that it bears out John Milton's maxim that truth
comes into the world a bastard, heaping ignominy upon those who dare to speak
Gen. Wesley Clark can
attest to that. He uttered a line so unassailably true that John McCain himself
would not deny its truth. Clark said that merely being
shot down while flying a Navy plane in wartime did not qualify a person to be
president. In fact, McCain had said as much in the past. But Clark
has been so pilloried for the remark that Sen. Barack Obama had to criticize
him and the general, a true war hero himself, was taken off the list of
potential vice presidential candidates.
had just finished praising McCain's courage and long service to the country and
counted him one of his personal heroes but when his questioner noted that Obama
had not flown a plane that was shot down Clark replied
that it was true but that McCain's misfortune and heroic ordeal did not qualify
him for president.
is not the first to be scorched by having the nerve to tell the plain truth,
even if inadvertently. That was the case when Charlie Black, the
lobbyist/publicist who advises McCain, told an interviewer that national
security was McCain's best issue and when he was asked if another attack like
9/11 would help McCain he replied that undoubtedly it would. That is an article
of faith for everybody, Democrats and Republicans alike, because the assumption
is that terrorism would rise to the top of everyone's agenda again and people
would rest their faith in the tough guy. Rationally, people should react just
the opposite — it would show that the Republicans have not made us any safer —
but that is not the common thinking. Black merely repeated the conventional
wisdom. He apologized for his truthfulness and McCain repudiated him. You won't
hear from Charlie Black again.
There was no dishonor
but plenty of ignominy when Bill Clinton said Barack Obama's primary victory in
South Carolina was not a shock because,
after all, Rev. Jesse Jackson had carried the state, too. It was a simple
statement of fact that it was the same large African-American vote that carried
Obama to victory. But it was characterized as a denigration of the
African-American candidate and it did untold harm to Clinton's
own reputation and to his wife's candidacy.
Same with Geraldine
Ferraro's famous remark that much of the excitement around the Obama campaign
arose from his race. That is an indisputable fact that Obama's earnest admirers
have no trouble admitting. But Ferraro was banished forever.
The list goes
At least General Clark
did not apologize. A real tough guy who has told the truth would not.
point all along ought to be the central issue of the campaign. The issues are
both experience and the judgment that one develops from the experience. McCain
served his country honorably in the Navy and heroically when he was tortured
after his capture. But while flying a fighter plane took courage and quick
thinking McCain's military experience was not on a theater scale where his
decisions affected the outcome of campaigns. The latter is the kind of military
experience that one might claim as qualification for commander in chief.
The real issue is
judgment. What did McCain learn from his experience and what did Obama learn
from his? McCain did learn one important thing that has informed his decisions
as a senator. He learned that every patriot has his breaking point — he
was forced to do a propaganda video against the United
States for his captors — and that torture
was both immoral and worthless. But it did not inform his larger judgment.
In the lead-up to the
invasion of Iraq,
McCain said in speech after speech that the war was necessary for national
security and that it would be a military cakewalk. The war will be “brief,” he
said, and would pave the way for democracy throughout the Middle
East. And contrary to his assertions the past couple of years he
wholly supported the Bush war strategy, praised Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld and said it would not take many troops to secure the victory. He was
defending Rumsfeld and his war strategy at least through May 12, 2004, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib
scandal. “I believe he's done a fine job,” he said on “Hannity and Colmes.”
Compare that to Illinois
state Sen. Barack Obama's speech in 2002 when the U. S. Senate began debating
the war resolution.
“I suffer no illusions
about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers
his own people to secure his own power.
... He's a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off
“But I also know that
Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his
neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military is a
fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international
community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he
falls away into the dustbin of history.
“I know that even a
successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined
length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.
“I know that an
invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international
support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst,
rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment
arm of Al Qaeda.
“I am not opposed to
all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.”
Obama was right on all
counts on the most important foreign-policy question of the past 40 years,
McCain consistently wrong. Wesley Clark never made a wiser, more provably