Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A New Kind of Sleaze

The Obama campaign officially says that Gen. Wesley Clark was not officially speaking for Obama when on CBS's Face the Nation this past Sunday, he denigrated Sen. John McCain's military experience. "I don't think that riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president, " Clark sniffed. Besides hinting that McCain was a substandard pilot-good ones do not get shot down-that remark necessarily discounts everything that came afterwards, McCain's five and a half years of voluntary confinement. Voluntary because the North Vietnamese, after learning that McCain was the son of a top U.S. Admiral, offered him early release, ahead of others who had been captured before McCain. McCain refused, not wanting to hand his captors a propaganda victory and undermine the morale of his co-prisoners. McCain never had to endure the debilitating torture, the beatings, the psychological torment, and the spirit-breaking confinement. He did it out of love of country and dedication to duty.

This is not to try and make McCain into a Christ-like figure, willingly suffering for the nation's sins. But it does illuminate just how egregious and despicable Clark's comments were. To boil McCain's entire military record down to the singular event of the loss of his plane while flying bombing missions over Hanoi, the most dangerous duty for an aviator in the Vietnam War, is so callous and dismissive that it had to have been intentional. Clark's defenders, and Clark himself, have said that he was merely responding to a question from host Bob Schieffer. But this only underscores the point that Clark was deliberately taking a shot at McCain's military experience. Schieffer's question pointed to the fact the Obama has no military or comparable executive experience that approaches McCain's. Clark had to diminish McCain in order to build up Obama.

But Clark was not the first, nor will he be the last, Obama surrogate to question McCain's military service. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) have both made comments questioning McCain's service, the latter going so far as to say that McCain does not understand the human cost of war because he was a pilot that dropped bombs on targets from high above. In each instance, the Obama campaign has refused to denounce the smears against McCain. In Clark's case, Sen. Obama made an oblique reference to the comments in his grand speech on patriotism, but did not denounce Clark by name.

This is not the "new kind of politics" that Sen. Obama plans to bring to America, it is the new kind of sleaze: send out surrogates to make baseless and despicable charges against your opponent all the while keeping the candidate above the fray by refusing to address or acknowledge the statements made on the campaign's behalf. Trouble is for Sen. Obama, as with almost everything else about him, this isn't really new. It is easily recognizable by the American people as the same kind of partisan politics that has so turned them off to politicians. Whatever short-term gain Obama may think he is getting from taking McCain's experience and qualifications for office down a notch will be more than outweighed by the disappointment many will come to feel when they realize that Obama isn't a new kind of politician after all.

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