A day after retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, now an Obama supporter, discussed McCain’s experience as a Navy pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam on a Sunday talk show, his remarks set off the pattern that has become familiar from innumerable earlier flaps over surrogate remarks during the presidential election year: The candidates, Obama and McCain, took the high road while the bare-knuckled language was left to their surrogates.
The latest dustup began on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Clark, the former supreme commander of NATO under Bill Clinton, said McCain’s military service was not the same as executive experience.
“In the matters of national security policy making, it’s a matter of understanding risk,” Clark said “It’s a matter of gauging your opponents, and it’s a matter of being held accountable. John McCain’s never done any of that in his official positions. I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war.
“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,” Clark said. “That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn’t a wartime squadron.”
Clark has said as much before, but drew little notice. CBS moderator Bob Schieffer cited Clark’s earlier remarks and noted that Obama hadn’t had those experiences either nor had he ridden in a fighter plane and been shot down. “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president,” Clark replied.
McCain himself said, “If that’s the kind of campaign Sen. Obama and his surrogates and supporters want to engage in, I understand that. But it doesn’t reduce the price of gas by one penny. It doesn’t achieve our energy independence or make it come any closer. Doesn’t make any American stay in their home who’s at risk of losing it today. And it certainly doesn’t do anything to address the challenges Americans have in keeping their jobs, homes and supporting their families.”