Blame Schieffer, Not Clark

Have you heard the thing about General Wesley Clark allegedly denigrating the value of John McCain’s military service? You might want to look into it further.

The real problem is not what General Clark said, but how it was reported. In the original interview, Clark was explaining that having on-the-ground military experience does not translate into “order[ing] the bombs to fall.” He continued:

[John McCain] 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 it.”

Then Bob Schieffer made a completely ridiculous and illogical remark:

I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down.

So just stop right there and consider the context for what came next. General Clark pointed out that being a soldier and being commander-in-chief are vastly different, that having experience in one role does not automatically transfer to the other role. Then Bob Schieffer seemed to imply that “rid[ing] in a fighter plane and [getting] shot down” is the unique quality that John McCain brings to the mix. To which General Clark responded—and quite correctly, I think:

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

Unfortunately, that is not how the remark has been reported. The “journalists” in broadcast media have instead turned the discussion from one of logical relevance—that is, really, how relevant to the job of President can it be that John McCain was shot down as a fighter pilot?—into one of insubstantial mudslinging and politicking.

Lately I have been railing against people who substitute meaningless fluff for substance in the name of “politics.” But here we have people taking real substance and turning it into pernicious fluff. It’s the same game. Don’t buy it.

John McCain deserves plenty of honor and respect for his military service. But when Bob Schieffer suggested that getting shot down in a fighter plane makes McCain more qualified to sit in the oval office and order the bombs to drop, that was just a stupid, flat wrong thing to say. General Clark shouldn’t be taking any heat for that one. Nor should Barack Obama. No, that stupidity was all Schieffer’s.

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