CLARK: 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. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn't a wartime squadron. 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, do you want to take the risk, what about your reputation, how do we handle this publicly? He hasn't made those calls, Bob.
SCHIEFFER: Can I just interrupt you? I have to say, Barack Obama hasn't had any of these experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down.
CLARK: I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.
I could get all "objective" about this, and make some wishy-washy point beginning "on the one hand . . ." and containing the phrase "on the other hand . . ." somewhere else. But, I won't. Clark's point is simple and clear. Furthermore, he's correct. I don't think there's anything particularly controversial here.
Let me be clear. First, McCain deserves our thanks for his service, as well as a certain deference for the inner strength he showed through simply surviving seven years as a POW, undergoing the harsh treatment he received at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors. Yet, unlike John Kerry, who merely pointed out his Vietnam service as part of his biography, McCain uses his own experience as a specific qualification for the highest office in the country. Clark is saying what is obvious - being a POW is not something that automatically qualifies one for the office of President. Nor should the topic be off the table. It is one thing to admire the personal strength of character McCain exhibited; it is another to take such admiration and say, "He should be President because he made it through that hell hole." There's no logic to it.
Yet, Clark's comments have already been "repudiated" by the Obama campaign, for reasons I don't really understand. Furthermore, as Tbogg and atrios point out, the panties of the right are bunching already, the hissy-fits are already being thrown, and the lies are already beginning. Klein's mischaracterization of Clark's statement should come as no surprise; the media is McCain's base, after all. Yet, we should pause for a moment to consider what he has to say, because like him or not, his is a voice of Inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom that is listened to very closely (which means folks in Germantown, MD and Burke, VA are allowed to think something different, apparently):
Clark is just plain wrong when he says that "getting shot down" doesn't qualify as foreign policy experience. I think McCain's Vietnam war experience gives him important perspective on the horrors of war and should never, ever be discounted--even if McCain's more recent positions have been unduly bellicose. It's also just really bad manners on Clark's part, given the suffering McCain endured.
Klein is wrong because this is not what Clark said. He said that being shot down and spending seven years as a POW does not qualify one as President. He said nothing of "foreign policy experience". He was answering a specific question Bob Schieffer addressed to him in a very specific way (which is probably why he is misunderstood; we aren't used to questions being answered on the Sunday blabfests). Furthermore, Klein falls in to the very trap the Clark is advocating we not do, which is confuse our personal admiration for this part of McCain's biography for any kind of bonus to be given him as he seeks public office.
This differs from the "Swiftboating" of John Kerry in a number of ways. The most obvious one is that it is honest. Unlike the lies spewed by the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, all Clark is doing here is pointing out that being a POW is hardly something that counts as a bullet-point on a resume.
I am quite sure we will hear all sorts of things said about Wes Clark, all kind of breast-beating and garment ripping over this particular bit of nonsense. I do hope it isn't as long a week as I fear it will be.
On a programming note, I will not be blogging on Friday, as it will be a day spent with my girls before a week spent alone. May I wish everyone a happy and safe holiday now.