This Is Not “Swiftboating”

The wingnuts are screaming because of something Gen. Wesley Clark said:

The dust-up began with Clark’s appearance Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” where moderator Bob Schieffer asked him about his interview with the Huffington Post earlier this month.

In the interview, Clark said McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, was “untested and untried.”

When Schieffer asked to explain the comment, Clark said he was referring to McCain’s experience, or lack thereof, in setting national security policies and understanding the risk involved in such matters.

“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. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn’t held executive responsibility,” said Clark, a former NATO commander who campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.

“He hasn’t been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn’t seen what it’s like when diplomats come in and say, I don’t know whether we’re going to be able to get this point through or not,” Clark said.

Schieffer noted that Obama did not have any of those experiences, nor had he “ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down.”

“Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president,” Clark said.

So a televised wingnut hollered that McCain was being swift-boated by Gen. Clark. Hello? Clark didn’t make unsupportable claims that McCain is lying about his war record or that he had behaved dishonorably in the service, as the swifties did to Kerry. He’s saying that being a fighter pilot and then a POW doesn’t qualify someone to be President.

Dear wingnuts: This is a simple statement of fact.

All manner of people have been POWs who would not have been good presidents. I sometimes write about my uncle, a POW in Japan during World War II, who was a great guy with many admirable qualities. But he would not have been a good president, either.

Look, wingnuts, if your atrophied brains have any firing neurons left, think about what skills a POW needs to survive. Then think about what skills a President needs to carry out the duties of office. I’m not talking about character here; I’m talking about professional skills. What does he know how to do?

I’m not saying that a former POW would necessarily be a bad president. I’m just saying the POW experience is irrelevant. John Kennedy’s PT 109 experience was irrelevant, also. That doesn’t mean he was a bad president. I’m just saying that bravery in war and being an effective POTUS are two unrelated things. I believe that’s what Gen. Clark was saying.

BTW, here’s a lovely bit of projection from a rightie blogger:

The “Ugly Liberal” is coming out in the Democrat Party. A close cousin to the Ugly American – who would go to Europe and other places and display such arrogance and snobbery that it gave all America a bad reputation – this is the election for the Ugly Liberal. It is their hate of Americans, conservatives, life, etc that drives them. They are a constant insult machine, tearing down others to prop up their insecurity. They run their little fantasies about how only they can save humanity from itself.

Cross out “liberal” and write in “wingnut,” and it would be more than accurate until the last sentence. Righties don’t fantasize about saving humanity from itself. They don’t give a bleep about humanity.

Update: Real Swift boaters don’t Swift boat.

Update: See also Josh Marshall:

It’s not surprising. But it is an example of the fatuous McCain worship that is the bread and butter of the Washington press corps that Wes Clark’s comments this weekend on Face the Nation are being called ‘swift-boating’. It’s almost comical, but not much less than Bob Schieffer’s incredulous responses to the fact that Clark had the temerity to argue that McCain’s experience as a Navy pilot and a POW don’t necessarily mean he’d be a good president. …

… The McCain campaign is now launching an attack with its ‘truth squad’ about the Clark ‘controversy’ and pushing Obama to “denounce” Clark, etc. It’ll be interesting to watch what happens here. The McCain campaign’s angle here is to not to prevent attacks on the integrity of McCain’s war record (which Clark explicitly did not do) but to make it off limits for anyone to question that his war-time experience means he has the temperament and experience which make him the better qualified candidate to be president.

27 thoughts on “This Is Not “Swiftboating”

  1. Maha,

    I have told you before that as much as I disagree with you on many points I like your blog.

    I have to say you are completely wrong in your conclusion. John F. Kennedy’s military service was very important and relevant, John McCain’s service was and is very important and relevant Dwight D. Eisenhower’s military experience was very important and relevant, General George Washington’s military experience was very important and relevant.

    Military service in a President is not a sole determining factor, perhaps not the most important factor but it is a very important factor particularly in times of war and danger.

    Would you argue that George Washington’s military service was unimportant or irrelevant to his election?

    Would you argue the same against General Eisenhower?

    In fact in both of these men their military experience in the war’s immediately prior to their election was extremely relevant and perhaps the sole determining factor for their election. Both men’s military service made them uniquely qualified for the office and both proved to be up to the task.

    Kennedy and McCain’s service would rank as a lower determining factor in my book. Neither commanded the entire nations armed forces but both served with courage under fire in a time of war. Both had very trying war time experiences that few of us will ever experience in our lives.

    We would all like to think we would perform as admirably as they did when ordered into combat, faced evading capture, or being captured, severely wounded even tortured. But very few of us will ever really know.

    John McCain was severely injured in a fire on the USS Forrester yet volunteered to transfer to another carrier and continued flying combat missions. He flew a total of 23 combat missions in Vietnam each time he risked his life to do so. He was shot down, captured, left for dead by his enemies, tortured, held as a prisoner of war for five years, two of them in solitary confinement, declined an early release when offered due to his fathers rank, when he was finally released he continued to serve as a military officer until 1981 serving as commander of an air squadron. He still suffers from his injuries to this day. His naval honors include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

    Those are indisputable qualifications to serve as the commander in chief and as President. A rare understanding of the implications of war, a proven character to perform under extreme pressure. A proven courage that few men are asked to equal. A proven record of self sacrifice in service to his country.

    Those are qualities that would well serve a president.

    Please do take him to task for his political positions and beliefs but do not try to undervalue the importance of his military service.

    You will lose that argument every time with the vast majority of Americans.

  2. True. Gen Clark did not say anything to denigrate McCain’s service or heroism. He only stated what I believe is true i.e. you cannot extrapolate experiece as a POW to qualification for the presidency.

  3. The tactic to take with wingnuts is not to enter the content of their argument, ie whether a POW is a good president or not, the preferred tactic is to throw their rhetoric back in their face, ie what Clark said is not Swift Boating, he’s expressing his judgment, based on facts.

    Always show the rightie what they are doing, don’t get baited into arguing about whatever content they’re kicking up. Step back from their level of argument and go up a level. Explain to them what SwiftBoating is and is not, and how their side did it in the past, and in fact perfected the tactic.

    Righties are oblivious to their projections, and here again, the best tactic is to show them their projections, explain how they do almost exactly what they accuse others of doing. Never go into the body of what they’re saying, avoid dealing point by point with their accusations.

    Never take the bait from a rightie, always step back and trap them with their own rhetoric.

  4. Wingnuts are ever long on banality, ever short on originality to the point where wingnuts themselves have become cliches – if people can be cliches.

    Other than that, it’s possible that Clark is to Obama what Agnew was to Nixon – the surrogate who publically voices what his boss can’t say but wants said. Obama did give one of his memorable, and obviously memorized, speeches this morning which played off neatly from Clark’s weekend remarks.

    I’m thinking Obama is one shrewd cookie.

  5. I still think it was a stupid comment. Clark should know better. Know, it was the truth, and it was not swiftboating. But it made it an issue for the day.


  6. While the parsed substance of what Clark was saying is certainly easily defensible, the fact is that Clark, a long-time surrogate of Bill and Hillary, is, whether intentionally or not, handing McCain an opportunity to play to his strength— i.e., getting people talking about his military record.

    This is just not where Obama needs to go: the man with decades in the House and the Senate, including the foreign policy realm, is certainly “qualified” to be President; trying to belittle McCain’s heroic military service simply does not help Obama (a man without such service). This election needs to be about substance and policy and the “tone” of “change”. A long-time Hillary supporter adopting the Hillary street-fighter “politics of personal destruction” strategy only helps… John McCain.

    I’m much more inclined to condemn Clark for allowing McCain to score points at a time when the media in general seems to by and large have forgotten that he even exists. Thanks, Hillary Wesley. Thanks, a lot.

  7. Rick Calvert — Next time you write a long comment, read what I wrote first. You missed the point by several miles.

    I did NOT say that military experience per se is not important or should not be considered when sizing up a presidential candidate.

    I said that McCain’s experience as a POW, or singular acts of bravery such as JFK’s PT 109 episode, are not relevant, because they don’t display any skills useful to being president. Not many presidents are called upon to carve messages on coconuts, for example.

    Being the commander of armies, on the other hand, shows executive/managerial ability. The military experiences of Eisenhower and Washington certainly would be relevant. Such people have more executive/managerial experiences than most senators, actually.

    And may I say that few things annoy me more than long comments written by people who clearly didn’t or couldn’t read the post they are commenting on.

  8. I really wish that jst once, one of Our Media Stars would ask one of these Righties to slow down, take a deep breath and explain exactly why they’re so upset, using real nouns and verbs:

    “So being shot down IS a qualification for being president?”

    One of the things they get away with is using squishy terms like “attacking” and “controversy” and “disrespecting” and “calling into question” and they never, ever, ever have to actually say what the hell they’re talking about.

  9. Found this Eisenhower quote, “I thought it completely absurd to mention my name in the same breath as the presidency.” From that can we assume that being a five star general with a successful war record does not necessarily qualify one to be president – at least in the mind of that five star?

    McCain’s military gambit only has legs because the American people are so freaked out by 9/11 to have lost all sense of proportion. McCain’s gambit only works with a fear-obsessed electorate – and it’s about time it gets some backbone.

  10. I knew a fellow who was an outstanding welder – gifted – studied in all aspects of welding, certified. Does not mean he could run a shipyard. It’s the same thing. McCains military service is a part of his life experiences, but these expereiences don’t always translate well in the Oval Office. If – and I emphasize if, McCain is still fighting ‘Nam in his head, and he’s never accepted in his head that we withdrew from South Vietnam w/out a clear victory, then he might be trying to redeem our reputation (in his mind) by NOT withdrawing from Iraq – short of a clear victroy. And that, my friends is an example of how you can be shaped in a negative, dangerous way by your experiences. That’s a question that needs to be asked.

  11. Blah blah blah… I’m so sick of this weird American fetish of the military… as if patriotism can only be defined by one’s military service. I mean, really– this whole More-Patriotic-Than-Thou schtick is really getting old. I don’t give a damn about bowling, who’s a POW, who drinks OJ or coffee, who tears up, what their favourite brand of toilet paper is– dammit, let’s talk POLICIES right here right now.

    Otherwise you may as well flush democracy down the toilet. Are Americans simply incapable of talking about issues of substance?

  12. Mr. Calvert, whilst lauding McCain’s war recoed as pilot (he wasn’t a “fighter pilot”) ande POW left out the part where McCain “broke” and signed a cofession of his “waqr crimes” against the Vietnamese people…

    Karl Rove’s boys didn’t forget to mention it during the primary election campaign in 2000…(The same folks who called McCain’s adopted daughter a “Nigger”)

  13. I agree with you , Pinko. It turns me off also when people try use military service as a trump card for patriotism. McCain’s military service means shit to me. Being captured doesn’t make you hero..and risking your life is something that every person who wears the uniform does in equal measure whether they’re a mess cook at some missile battery in North Dakota, or flying combat missions at wherever.
    Aside from that…McCain’s claim to greatness goes back to over 40 years ago… almost ancient history. Where was he a POW, Andersonville? Most eligible voters today weren’t even born when he was a POW.

    40 years ago..I had washboard abs.. you know what I mean? like history.

  14. Andrew Sullivan has in his usual silly and infantile way come in on the side of Clark’s critics, comparing Clark to the Swift-boaters. I am British, not American, so I really do not understand the American obsession with the military, which seems to have grown stronger with the years (I am certainly not speaking of all Americans, but this obsession is very clear in the media and elsewhere). Speaking of generals, I once met Field-Marshal Montgomery when I was a small boy: he still held himself rigidly upright, and had a tight little smile and a peppery expression; he would have been a disaster as Prime Minister (as almost certainly he knew); in the 19th-century, Wellington didn’t exactly cover himself in glory as a politician. As the conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott (whom Sullivan affects to admire) suggests, taking the armed services or corporate organisations as a model of how a society should be run is a recipe for disaster. The novelist Anthony Powell, incidentally, compares generals to prima donnas and dowager duchesses who are used to getting their own way. John McCain wasn’t a general, but he certainly seems to be a prima donna, and I think America – and, more important than America, the world as a whole – would be better off without him in a position of power.

  15. McCain himself, not a ‘surrogate’, has belittled Obama’s national security experience. He obviously thinks national security experience is important, and believes he has some that is relevant.

    Why should it be off-limits to question that assertion?

    Why is it OK for McCain attack Obama as someone who has “no national security experience”, but NOT OK for a decorated, wounded-in-combat former general and Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe to suggest that maybe McCain’s experience isn’t actually as relevant as he would have us believe? Seems like Clark, with military AND policy experience, might be in a position to know.

    As they might say on the TV courtroom dramas, “McCain opened to door to this line of questioning, your honor, with his previous argument.”

  16. I said that McCain’s experience as a POW, or singular acts of bravery such as JFK’s PT 109 episode, are not relevant, because they don’t display any skills useful to being president.

    Providing capable leadership to a boat crew in a crisis has some transference to political leadership. Executive leadship of a large military organization as a General would be significantly more relevant.
    Surviving incarceration as a powerless prisoner shows endurance doesn’t have much relevance to assuming the most powerful leadership position in the world; in fact it might be counterproductive. Instead of deifying McCain as Hanoi Hilton Jesus it would be more insightful to examine what damage being a POW did to his mental faculties.

    (Repig press release pablum edited)
    A rare understanding of the implications of war

    “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran”. ‘Nuff said.

    a proven character to perform under extreme pressure.

    Unless his wife mentions his bald spot, in which case he goes apeshit and calls her a “trollop” and a “cunt” in front of several journalists. A proven history of short-tempered, hot-headed outbursts to the point where several senators *from his own party* have publicly stated they find him temperamentally too dangerous to assume the presidency.

  17. Obama is showing his true identity – a right-wing hack.

    As for McCain 20 hours of combat time followed by making propaganda films for the enemy, only to be plastered with un-earned medals because his dad was Admiral is NOT military experience!

    I do NOT want a Vet that is clearly suffering from PTSD and enthusiastically enjoys that the US is doing to other humans exactly what the VC did to him.

    No to Hanoi John! He’s the Manchurian Candidate controlled by the Fascist Party.

    No to Obama! He’s a moderate Republican and is moving farther to the right with every passing day.

    I want a REAL Democrat in office. One that will FIGHT the far-right wing, not join then, like Obama has. I want a president that will restore balance to the Judiciary, and it is clear that the far-right will fight any nomination to the bench that is to the left of Scalia.

    Obama is a Republican! Hanoi John is insane!

    Why don’t Democratic voters vote for actual Democrats? Instead Democratic voters vote for right wingers like Clinton and Obama!

  18. May I say that Comrade Rutherford exemplifies the “Purity or Nothing” spirit that has marginalized liberalism lo these many years. Thanks, fool.

  19. When Republicans write like I do, they are given their own talk shows. Liberals that tell the truth are marginalized no matter how they say it.

    Obama IS to the right of center. That makes him a Republican by deed, maybe not by name.

    I want a President that embraces the values of the Democratic Party, not one the flees from those values, like Obama is doing at this very moment. Liberals have marginalized themselves by NOT fighting back against the far right takeover of America in 1980.

    And this is where we’ve come: a once-moderate Republican now controlled by the far right, versus a ‘liberal’ Democrat that openly supports a moderate GOP position.

    So where is the Democratic candidate? They were not supported by we ‘liberals’. (Sen. Clinton is another right-wing operative masquerading as a Democrat, so is Pelosi, Reid, Hoyer, most of the Blue Dogs, even Leahy…)

    When are we liberals going to fight back against the right, instead of constantly caving in to the smallest objection from the far-right? The Right are now filibustering EVERYTHING in the Senate. The Dems ran like scared little girls when it was suggested that they do the exact same thing several years ago.

    If I rant like a conservative I am called a ‘fool’, if I cave in like a Democrat, the whole nation loses. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

  20. What has been remarkably absent from this discussion is the story of George H W Bush being shot down and rescued by a submarine. And though that service may have helped him achieve his initial election as a carpetbagger congressman in Texas, it was his other traits of intelligence and character that sent him up the ladder.

    Make no mistake, I didn’t vote for the guy, but there was never any discussion that having his aircraft destroyed under him granted high executive qualification to him. So considering Wes’ own battle injuries, and the draft dodging war presdunt, this is silly, and most people know it.

    Now we must return the discussion to the litany of reasons that McCain is unqualified for the office. Ultimately the paleoworldview he is marketing as a “way forward” is a high conflict insanity of unending chaos. Obama’s election doesn’t make everything milk and honey, but at least he sane, thoughtful and passionate about “better”.

    Oh BTW, this incident puts Webb back in the VeepStakes, whether he likes it or not.

  21. Obama IS to the right of center.

    Hardly. He’s to the right of me, but not to the right of the current center. He’s pretty close to the center, actually.

    However, people who are viewing things from extreme angles usually can’t determine where the center is.

    I agree the Dems cave in way too much, and I agree with fighting the Right, but if you’re going to throw a temper tantrum and refuse to support every Dem politician who falls short of your own views of political purity, you’re not exactly helping.

    I’ve watched liberals do this time and time again over the years. It’s called “eating our own.” It’s one of the reasons the Right keeps beating us.

    See the post I just put up about fanaticism. Then go away.

  22. Obama IS to the right of center. That makes him a Republican by deed, maybe not by name.

    Of course, no proof of this statement is provided, plus it shows complete ignorance of Obama’s public voting record on national and state levels.

    Good point about fanaticism in your reply, maha. Fanatics believe first, and investigate… never.

  23. Hey All, I would like to return to the point made earlier about the American obsession with military service. As a returned peace corps volunteer I would suggest a different way to serve the US abroad without wearing a uniform and shooting Iraqis for the preservation of our freedom. Volunteering in American communities as an Americorps volunteer is an example of people working with American poor and under-represented for little pay or benefits. Yet these positions are ignored when people speak about “servicing” America. The fact is many people join the military because our economy has been killed to the point that the military is the only remaining career for a great deal of Americans! When the choice is join the army or flipping burgers for 8 bucks an hour who can blame young men and women for choosing the military? I’m not sure how we can begin reconsidering the definition of what service to the country entails, but today you would think the only way to serve the country is by working in the military industrial complex.

  24. Sorry Maha I did read your post and understood your point clearly the first time. I suppose I did not state mine clearly. You see serving as a POW as learning how to write on coconuts.

    I view it as an extraordinary test of a persons character and ability to handle physical and psychological pressure that most Americans will never experience. It also shows a commitment and sacrifice to ones country that again most people will never be asked to make.

    Kind of like serving as the President.

    As for writing on coconuts or learning how to communicate via code tapped on walls (like John McCain and his fellow POW’s did) that shows a level of creative problem solving that great leaders tend to have.

  25. Sorry Maha I did read your post and understood your point clearly the first time. I suppose I did not state mine clearly. You see serving as a POW as learning how to write on coconuts.

    No, the “writing on coconuts” thing was a reference to JFK’s PT 109 story. Learn your history before you dare comment here, dude.

    FYI, since you still didn’t read my post, I have enormous respect for people who endured being POWs. As I wrote in the post that you didn’t read, I had a beloved uncle who was a POW in Japan during World War II, and I have some idea what he went through. He was taken prisoner the day after Pearl Harbor (he was an embassy guard in Peking) and remained a POW until after VJ day in 1945, close to four years. He endured this honorably but suffered terrible physical problems as a result. He died in the early 1970s of complications caused by his POW experience.

    Now, my uncle was a wonderful fellow, and of good character.


    None of his life experiences prepared him for the actual job of POTUS. The job would have been over his head.

    I view it as an extraordinary test of a persons character and ability to handle physical and psychological pressure that most Americans will never experience. It also shows a commitment and sacrifice to ones country that again most people will never be asked to make.

    Kind of like serving as the President.

    Nothing like serving as President, but thanks for playing. It’s a different kind of endurance test, dude, and since in McCain’s case it happened so long ago, it’s inapplicable to what he would be able to endure now.

    As for writing on coconuts or learning how to communicate via code tapped on walls (like John McCain and his fellow POW’s did) that shows a level of creative problem solving that great leaders tend to have.

    My uncle did stuff like that, too. It’s not an extraordinary thing to have done.

    And since I suspect you are a troll, you are banned. I don’t have time to waste arguing with trolls.

  26. I have read that McCain has released some 17 pages of his service record rather then the whole thing. (Please correct me if I am wrong) What I think the rest of the record would show is a man that is unqualified to be president.

    I belive that it would show an ill disiplined, bad tempered, hot dog. His history at the Navel Acadamy is, to me, indicative. He was in the top 5% of his class when it came to demerits and the bottom 5% when it came to accomplishments. The first on liberty and the last to return, not some one striving to give the service the best that he had.

    He appears to have been a lacklluster pilot with five crashes to his credit. Since entrance into the naval avation progam is usually resticted to those that graduate at or near the top of the class I wonder how he got in. Could he have been a legacy? I feel this is a legitimate, though weak, inference given the admission policy of the avation program.

    I lost the respect that I had for McCain back in the 2000 election When I saw the picture of him clinging to G.W. after the Bushies has savaged him. Then his weak and short lived support and defence of of Max Cleland when his service record was used aganist him lead from disrespect to a feeling that John McCain had lost all honor.

    His proformance ever since has convined me that what ever honor he had he lost or sold for a chance at the presidency

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