I take John Cole’s view on Wesley Clark’s statement regarding the relevancy of being shot down and tortured to an individual’s ability to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. In short, General Clark is correct on the specific statement. That makes all the ranting border on the hysterical. Predictable, perhaps, but still strange.
The worst example I’ve encountered, which is a key distinction here because I’ve actively avoided the outrage machine, comes from Andrew Sullivan in response to a reader’s dissent. Mr. Sullivan writes (my emphasis added):
Strictly speaking, it is irrelevant for the presidency if someone was shot down and tortured. It doesn’t make anyone a better potential president. But there are plenty of ways to put this and to frame this without descending to a default position that seems to devalue McCain’s service. Clark is a dreadful politician and his off-the-cuff response, while technically true, is terrible politics and about the last debate Democrats need or should want to have. It has dominated a news cycle in ways that help McCain not Obama and drowned out Obama’s patriotism speech. The only silver lining is that the small chance that Clark might be an Obama veep is now zero.
General Clark is correct in his statement. Mr. Sullivan is correct in acknowledging that General Clark’s statement is “technically true” and terrible politics. I’m not here to refute the latter point because the rest of Gen. Clark’s interview with Bob Schieffer was classic shill. So what? The question is whether we’re really interested in an election that puts good politics ahead of the truth? Our unwillingness to deal with the truth because it’s politically unpalatable is why we’re in so many of the national messes we’re in. I’m not interested in enabling that further by pretending like this matters. It’s bad enough that we all have to play the game.
But what about the politics of this? The media has engaged itself in the long-standing narrative that Sen. McCain is a Hero™, so we can’t question him. Why? One need not question his heroism, patriotism, or sacrifice to get at the present reality. His history is a facet of his application for the office of President. Because his experience is (thankfully) rare does not give him a free pass. If getting shot down and tortured contributes something to the merit of his qualification, let him explain why. But do not treat it as a given. There is a viable thread that his experience gives him unique, applicable experience. There is also a viable thread that it’s not a requirement for the job. If one wants to be feisty, maybe his experience is even a knock on his fitness to be president because of how he processes it.
Semi-related, today Mr. Sullivan posts this general defense of Sen. Obama.
But Obama’s post-primary pivot to neutralize all the usual GOP attacks – and reintroduce himself to Middle America – has been more than usually pronounced. He can live with FISA telecom immunity; he’s flexible on troop withdrawal from Iraq; he’s happy with executing child rapists; he doesn’t need public financing; he’ll out-patriot the Right; he’s touting his support for welfare reform; he’ll expand Bush’s faith-based programs; and he’s okay with the Supreme Court’s view of the Second Amendment. Oh, and he’ll reduce taxes on the middle class, while hiking them for the rich or successful or whatever you’ll let me call them.
It’s been clear for a long time: A man who beat the Clintons is as ruthless as they are. Just smarter, and less susceptible to losing his grip on the core principles he still believes in.
I don’t question that Sen. Obama is an effective politician. This is why I think he’ll be more ineffective in office than some want to believe. Being a gifted politician means getting what you want, but it also means making enemies. Hopefully he’ll make enough in the Congress.
But I’m not able to decipher a coherent, consistent set of core principles in Sen. Obama’s growing spectrum of public declarations. The telecoms broke the law. He won’t advocate repealing campaign finance regulations. Faith-based programs miss the point of the First Amendment, among other problems. Adjusting the mix of financial “winners” and “losers” – a rejection of the idea that merit should mean something – ignores property rights and equal treatment under the law in favor of his idea of more equal outcomes. Narrow that down in a way that each set of facts can be filtered through through the same idea and I’ll retract my criticism that he is not acting from core principles. Until then, let’s not confuse winning with correct. Manipulating the message is great marketing, but it’s hardly proof of a statesman.
(Comments are closed. Cross-posted at Publius Endures, where comments are open.)