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Hypocrisy Check – For Myself, Obama and McCain

July 8, 2008

A couple of posts ago I used some very strong language in calling Wes Clark a hypocrite, and then extended that hypocrisy to the Democrats in general. Reader Tom kindly took time out his day to alert me to the fact Obama distanced himself from Clark’s comments, and then observed that it’s “unfortunate that those on the Right took the time to use Gen. Clarks comments to support their cause making it seem as if “the Democrats” logic is skewed even when the Democratic nominee himself rebuked them.”

Rest assured Tom that I was duly apprised of Obama’s remarks, and that before he had uttered them I had wondered if anywhere in my post I was too harsh or unfair. The response of some Democrats to this issue makes me think I was a bit far-reaching in my judgment, but I am not entirely convinced I was, because the problem is bigger than simply Wesley Clark.

As for Clark, check out this video: Wesley Clark Then And Now.

“John Kerry’s combination of physical courage and moral values is my definition of what we need as Americans in our commander in chief.”

(Powerline: Busted) These are words that describe John McCain, not Barack Obama. And that’s the obvious problem for Obama, and why his “rebuke” doesn’t quite fly for me.

Still, as Rick Moran points out in : Wesley Clark and the Unbearable Banality of Campaign ’08, the McCain camp didn’t exactly distinguish itself either in it’s response:

“If Barack Obama wants to question John McCain’s service to his country, he should have the guts to do it himself and not hide behind his campaign surrogates,” Smith said.

“If he expects the American people to believe his pledges about a new kind of politics, Barack Obama has a responsibility to condemn these attacks.”

To which Obama eagerly complied. A great news cycle for everyone! Except for Wesley Clark. Still, I was underwhelmed by the McCain camp rhetoric here. Clark was not simply “questioning his service”. He was questioning it’s relevance to McCain’s resumé, a point I think is absurd given the Democrats preoccupation with it in 2004.

The problem is, this whole issue (which was the main point of my post) got lost: is McCain’s military experience (and by implication, Obama’s lack of said experience) something relevant to this campaign, and if so, for good or bad? What we got for the most part is a lot of bandwidth used up on defending Obama’s love of suffering soldiers and McCain’s heroism per se in a general sense but not connected to the qualifications of commander in chief.

So looking at this a few days later, I still have to think: advantage Obama. Like a bad TV lawyer can blurt out something awful in court and have it “stricken from the record”, the damage has been done. In fact it doesn’t take too much imagination to believe that this whole little kabuki dance wasn’t in part authorized and orchestrated by the Obama camaign.

Why? Because the logic remains:

“The real issue is this,” [Howard] Dean said in March 2004, when endorsing formal rival Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., “Who would you rather have in charge of the defense of the United States of America, a group of people who never served a day overseas in their life, or a guy who served his country honorably and has three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star on the battlefields of Vietnam?”

McCain, by the way, has been awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Star Medals, a Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

That point, which was mercilessly pounded into the American publics’ brain for months by the Democrats during campaign ’04, must now be ever so artfully airbrushed away lest they decide to make the rational choice for John McCain- based on their own criteria. Obama can say that “no one should ever devalue [military] service, especially for the sake of a political campaign” but the truth is he really does need to devalue McCain’s service as a qualification for the Presidency or he could have a real problem.

That’s why Obama delivered these remarks in a speech about patriotism which really ended up making this whole debate about the candidates patriotism- a fool’s debate- and not whether or not McCain’s service is relevant to his qualifications for office. In a very subtle yet effective way, Obama was then able to self-righteously declaim against supposed attacks on his patriotism- a nice diversion.

Obama was also able to subtly introduce the idea that McCain’s service was chiefly in “physical torment”, and idea key to what I think is the underlying message: McCain was a loser in a loser war. I wouldn’t have thought that on the basis of Obama’s speech alone however, it was only after reviewing some of the other attacks the Obama surrogates have delivered on McCains service as a qualification for office. Consider these statements (via Campaign Spot):

Sen. Jay Rockefeller:

“McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. said.

“What happened when they [the missiles] get to the ground? He doesn’t know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues.”

Sen. Tom Harkin:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s family background as the son and grandson of admirals has given him a worldview shaped by the military, “and he has a hard time thinking beyond that,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., said Friday.

“I think he’s trapped in that,” Harkin said in a conference call with Iowa reporters. “Everything is looked at from his life experiences, from always having been in the military, and I think that can be pretty dangerous.”

Harkin said that “it’s one thing to have been drafted and served, but another thing when you come from generations of military people and that’s just how you’re steeped, how you’ve learned, how you’ve grown up.”

“But now McCain is running for a higher office. He’s running for commander in chief, and our Constitution says that should be a civilian,” Harkin said. “And in some ways, I think it would be nice if that commander in chief had some military background, but I don’t know if they need a whole lot.”

This last bit is absolutely rich as Harkin was caught inflating his own military record. [Note: This link is a whole story in itself- and one of those foundational Instapundit posts that really forever changed my view of Democrats and the media]

George McGovern:

If I’d be allowed just one little dig at Senator McCain, since he gave me. I would say, ‘John, you were shot down early in the war and spent most of the time in prison. I flew 35 combat missions with a 10-man crew and brought them home safely every time.

Democratic Candiate Bill Gillespie:

“Admirals’ sons,” Gillespie said, unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District held by Republican Rep. Jack Kingston, “were treated like royalty. They were privileged people. They were given a silver spoon. Their careers were prepared for them.

Then of course there was John Kerry this weekend:

“John McCain … has proven that he has been wrong about every judgment he’s made about the war. Wrong about the Iraqis paying for the reconstruction, wrong about whether or not the oil would pay for it, wrong about Sunni and Shia violence through the years, wrong about the willingness of the Iraqis to stand up for themselves.

Kerry, who talked to McCain about being his running mate in 2004, says McCain has radically changed in the last 4 years. Oddly, he does not mention McCain’s very vocal and brave support of the surge which has been responsible for the amazing turnaround in Iraq. So maybe he overstated his case by saying “every judgement about the war”.

So there you have it. Each attack is different, some have been apologized for; some are direct attacks on his service; some are attacks on his service as a qualification for President. It makes for difficult discussion: McCain can’t pound on the fact that he has military service to much or it gets annoying and wierdly manipulative; yet he can’t let the affronts just pass. Obama can denounce things in general and look good in the process but that doesn’t mean the attacks won’t stop.

I stand by my characterization of Wesley Clark and await a change of tone in the national discussion of McCain’s record as relates to his qualification to be President. But I think it’s much too important an issue for Obama to go after for it to go away completely. Ultimately it probably depends on how the issue does in opinion polls. If it’s a loser, it will definitely go away!

I hope there are more people like Tom out there, but please remember: what was made out to be a big deal in 2004 is being made to be not such a big deal in 2008. As I said before, different campaign, different logic. I’ll grant that most Democrats don’t want to insult McCain’s military record, but it seems to me most are going to try to ignore the fact that miltary service no longer matters to them because he’s not the Democratic nominee. Is hypocrisy too strong a word for that facet of the debate?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Timmy C. permalink
    July 19, 2008 2:18 pm

    Grec: good of you to grant that your previous remarks were a bit of an overreach.

    BTW: based on what you wrote on Barack’s speech trying to reduce McCain’s war record as “cheifly enduring physical torment.” I relooked at the speech and I think you may have read that into the text.

    “I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice – to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause. For those who have fought under the flag of this nation – for the young veterans I meet when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country – no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides. We must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform. Period. Indeed, one of the good things to emerge from the current conflict in Iraq has been the widespread recognition that whether you support this war or oppose it, the sacrifice of our troops is always worthy of honor.”

    Isn’t he actually praising McCain’s sacrifice and service? And making a strong rebuke to anyone on his side who comes even close to denigrating McCain’s service? I looked for anything that implied that McCain’s service was “chiefly” in suffering, but maybe I’m not reading enough between the lines.

    Anyway: I also don’t think Obama needs to “devalue” the idea of McCain’s service: He simply needs to make the key issue (as he did with Clinton) not only about service, but about wise or unwise judgment.

    BTW: Is it me, or might this whole issue of Iraq and mid east strategy be winding down overall as an issue this election?:

    When Maliki starts talking like Barack, when on Afghanistan McCain starts sounding like Obama, and when Bush himself starts talking about a troop withdrawl timetable horizon, are we starting to see a confluence of opinion on “what to do now?”

  2. July 28, 2008 3:40 pm

    Obama quote from the ABC interview I quoted a few posts after this one.

    “You’ve got young people who are coming here, 21, 22, 24 [years old] … if you go to Walter Reed, you see young men and women of the same age who lost a limb or lost their sight,” he said. “What we are asking of them is profound, and that means that, as commander in chief, it is absolutely my obligation to get it right, to get the decisions as accurate as possible, based on the best facts available and to clear away the politics and to clear away the ideology and the preassumptions, but to also recognize that these service members take such extraordinary pride in their work.

    “Regardless of these legitimate differences, strategic differences between myself and John McCain or George Bush or anybody else, we are absolutely united in being proud of them and understanding that, given their sacrifices, we better fulfill our duties at least as well as they’re fulfilling theirs.”

    I think the rhetorical ploy is to simply juxtapose “service” with “suffering” etc. and let people draw their own conclusions.

    Certainly I’m not the only one to make this ovservation
    For Liberals, Soldiers Are Victims

    This comment of yours was an excellent preview of the strategy now being deployed.

    *Ignore the fact that Kerry was considered most qualified in 2004 because of his service. (You certainly ignored this main point of this post.)

    *Try to make it seem like there is very little disagreement about what to do going forward.

    *Most importantly, ignore the fact that we can have this conversation because we’re winning in Iraq.

    Vein on head bulging!!!

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