Monday, June 30, 2008

McCain's War Record

Politico is reporting that attacks on Sen. McCain's war record are beginning to heat up. Last weekend, retired Gen. Wesley Clark said that he didn't think that McCain's military service was relevant to running the country, and yesterday, AMERICAblog posed the question, "Honestly, besides being tortured, what did McCain do to excel in the military?"

It's important to sort out a few things before we get to the meat of these statements. First of all, it would be a mistake to confuse the two comments. I think that Wesley Clark is right - John McCain's experience in Vietnam, by itself, does not guarantee that he'll be a competent commander-in-chief. The money quote from Clark was:
"I don't think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president."
Ok - so we're playing hardball now, but he's right, isn't he? Clark was careful to add that he had worlds of respect for McCain's service, but he didn't consider McCain to have the executive experience necessary to be President. I agree. McCain has never been a governor, a CEO, a general, or the leader of any large organization whose job it is to make the tough calls and take ultimate responsibility. As Clark pointed out, McCain commanded a squadron in the Navy - but it wasn't a wartime squadron, and anyway, that's not the same thing. It should be noted here that Obama is also green in terms of executive experience. Not that such experience would guarantee success - after all, we're about to be done with 8 years of a president who was governor of a major state. But does the lack of that experience guarantee failure? (I would say no, but I want to hear what you think.)

Now to the second comment, a post that appeared on Sunday on AMERICAblog. This seems much slimier to me. Here's the post in its entirety:
It's not "nice" to ask the question, but it's actually a pretty good question. Yes, we all know that John McCain was captured and tortured in Vietnam (McCain won't let you forget). A lot of people don't know, however, that McCain made a propaganda video for the enemy while he was in captivity. Putting that bit of disloyalty aside, what exactly is McCain's military experience that prepares him for being commander in chief? It's not like McCain rose to the level of general or something. He's a vet. We get it. But simply being a vet, as laudable as it is, doesn't really tell you much about someone's qualifications for being commander in chief. If McCain is going to play the "I was tortured" card every five minutes as a justification for electing him president, then he shouldn't throw a hissy fit any time any one asks to know more about his military experience. Getting shot down, tortured, and then doing propaganda for the enemy is not command experience. Again, it's not nice to say say, but we're not running for class president here. We deserve real answers, not emotional outbursts designed to quell the questions.
No, it's not "nice" to ask the question, but it's also not relevant to ask it (and it's a pretty bad question, actually). Asking what McCain did to "excel" in the military is totally different from asking how his military experience translates into executive readiness - even if that post attempts rather lamely to conflate the two questions. It's not necessary to "excel" in the military to prove your qualifications for president, though perhaps McCain's seventeen awards and decorations from the military will suggest that maybe he wasn't a total waste of space as a soldier (or that he wasn't a traitor, which I'll get to in a minute). I'll agree that being a veteran, by itself, is not qualification for the presidency, but he's served in the U.S. Congress for a quarter century. That has to count for something, doesn't it?

But all of this ignores the biggest problem with that post. The New York Times ran a piece today about the attempt to reclaim the term "swift boat" by veterans, and it's got me thinking about the tactics deployed in AMERICAblog. There's no reason to think that military service alone qualifies McCain for the presidency - and good people can disagree about the relevance of military experience to the position of a civilian commander-in-chief. But accusing McCain of "disloyalty" by appearing half-dead in a video produced by the enemy is a particularly low blow. Democrats still cringe when they hear the words "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," remembering how slimy political operatives turned a Vietnam war hero into a dishonest and weak punching bag for the right. What was it that we hated about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? Was it that they were mendacious thugs who cared more about winning than about the truth - or was it that they were attacking a Democrat? Are we going to adopt the tactics of our enemies? In a message to Politico, Jon Aravosis, who wrote the post about McCain on AMERICAblog, said, "
Well, the Republicans sported Band-Aids to mock John Kerry's medals from Vietnam. They mocked his injuries in war." Good to know that his idea of political debate boils down to "He started it!"

I have no interest in attacking John McCain as disloyal for having been in a propaganda video produced by the enemy. I can't imagine how much pain he was in, and I believe him when he says he was at his breaking point. I think that his Vietnam service, though admirable, does not mean he'll be a better commander-in-chief than Barack Obama would. Those two stands are not mutually exclusive, and if the left has any interest in winning (or in being responsible), they'll realize that.

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