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Military Service — Why Now?
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Military Service

MSNBC asks the question: Military service: A diminished campaign asset?

The short answer is yes, and the proof is the distribution of Purple Heart band-aids at the GOP’s 2004 convention.

Of course, they don’t want to talk about what happened to John Kerry, they want to talk about what Wes Clark said about John McCain.

This is what he said:

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. 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 Air…in the Navy that he commanded, it 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 it publicly’

Bob Schieffer: Well

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: He hasn’t made those calls, Bob.

Bob Schieffer: Well, well, General, maybe …


Bob Schieffer: Could I just interrupt you. If…


Bob Schieffer: 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. I mean-

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President.

OK, I personally know about riding in aircraft and having more take-offs than landings. Does my 3,800 combat/combat support flying hours qualify me to be President? No, because I lack the same things John McCain lacks, the experience leading/managing large organizations.

Realistically, governors are more qualified to be President, than Senators. Governors have the necessary experience, and Senators don’t.

Being a veteran, serving in the military, even in peacetime gives you a perspective that other people don’t have. That is valuable, but it has never been a prerequisite for the job.

All Wes Clark is doing is pointing out that John McCain doesn’t have any experience commanding a large unit in the military, which would be relevant to the job of the President.

Look at Wikipedia’s entry on John McCain’s academy experience:

Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, McCain entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. There, he was a friend and leader for many of his classmates, and sometimes stood up for people who were being bullied. He also became a lightweight boxer. McCain had conflicts with higher-ups, and he was disinclined to obey every rule, which contributed to a low class rank (894/899) that he did not aim to improve. McCain did well in academic subjects that interested him, such as literature and history, but studied only enough to pass subjects he disliked, such as math. McCain graduated in 1958.

This is not a good record for promotion, and the fact that he had three fewer landings than take-offs before he volunteered for combat duty, also worked against him.

McCain has outstanding decorations: Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Prisoner of War Medal.

Phillip Butler, also a former POW, discusses some of McCain’s decorations and provides some background on the POW experience.

Now look at Wikipedia’s entry for Wesley Clark:

Wesley Kanne Clark (born December 23, 1944) is a retired General of the United States Army. Clark was valedictorian of his class at West Point, was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford where he obtained a degree in PPE (Philosophy, Politics & Economics), and later graduated from the Command and General Staff College with a master’s degree in military science. He spent 34 years in the Army and the Department of Defense, receiving many military decorations, several honorary knighthoods, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

General Clark was commander of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, United States European Command, and United States Southern Command. He has experience leading large organizations.

His decorations are bit more extensive than McCain’s: Miltary Decorations, International Awards and Honors, and Civilian Honors.

Like thousands of Vietnam veterans, John McCain had a “hard war”, and should be honored for his service, but that service was not unique. While about 600 POW were released at the end of US involvement, many more didn’t live to see that day.

Wes Clark didn’t belittle John McCain’s service; he put it in context. That is something that is not being done by critics of General Clark.


1 Michael { 07.02.08 at 12:56 pm }

Military service is not necessary or sufficient qualification to be president, but it is a qualification. Wesley Clark did mishandle this question.

2 Steve Bates { 07.02.08 at 3:58 pm }

Michael, you are simply factually mistaken. A quick glance at biographies of our nation’s presidents reveals that some served in the military and some did not; some were in command positions and some were not. There is no evidence that military service, in and of itself, has ever been a qualification for being president.

As to Clark’s “mishandl[ing]” the question, again, you are mistaken. Clark said, “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President.” And by any reasonable standard, it isn’t. This is being used by the wingnuts to assert that Clark is somehow maligning McCain’s service record. He didn’t; that’s a simple, baldfaced lie. I sincerely hope you will not be taken in by it.

3 Michael { 07.02.08 at 4:29 pm }

Steve, read what I wrote more carefully. Military service is not necessary or sufficient qualification to be president. That is the entire point you are now trying to demonstrate, and it is what Wesley Clark should have said.

It is a qualification, maybe not a very good one, but something that belongs on the resume if it’s part of the candidate’s background.

4 Steve Bates { 07.02.08 at 4:51 pm }

Michael, the first definition of “qualification” that comes up if one googles “define:qualification” is “an attribute that must be met or complied with and that fits a person for something.” (wordnet.princeton.edu). By that standard, military service is NOT a qualification for serving as president.

I count 13 U.S. presidents who did not serve in the military; that’s almost one-third of all of them. They include such stellar lights as Thomas Jefferson and FDR.

(Oh, and believe me, I can read perfectly well. Not everyone who disagrees with you is necessarily illiterate.)

5 Michael { 07.02.08 at 5:58 pm }

Steve, I did not say you were illiterate, I said you should read what I wrote. And you’re still arguing against a straw man. If you understand (and I know that you do) that I said that military service is neither necessary nor sufficient, why do you keep trying to prove that military service is neither necessary nor sufficient. Are you just arguing to argue?

There is not one single qualification for being president except getting more electoral votes. So if you want strict dictionary definitions, nobody has qualification to be president until November 4.

6 hipparchia { 07.02.08 at 6:18 pm }

michael, i see what you’re saying, but i think clark was right: not just any ol’ kind of military service can be counted as a qualification for president. some knds of military service do count, and in clark’s estimation, neither flying a plane nor being a prisoner of war counts.

personally, i’d count being a pow as a qualification, but only if the experience had led the candidate to believe as i do: that torture is illegal, inhumane, and immoral.

but yeah, what you said:

There is not one single qualification for being president except getting more electoral votes. So if you want strict dictionary definitions, nobody has qualification to be president until November 4.

7 Steve Bates { 07.02.08 at 7:15 pm }

“Steve, I did not say you were illiterate, I said you should read what I wrote. And you’re still arguing against a straw man. … Are you just arguing to argue?” – Michael

Let me try to take a positive approach to this.

Michael, I understand that because of our respective personalities, you and I are probably incapable of learning anything from each other. Well and good…

But I hope against hope that you can put aside your self-assuredness for long enough to recognize that Gen. Clark, far from having “mishandled” the situation, understands more about both international relations and presidential politics than you or I can ever hope to learn… and learn something from him. Goodness knows I have. I am not saying he is perfect, but he is both broad and deep. And what he said in this case is precisely to the point: McCain’s status as a war hero is not only a quirk of fate, but completely irrelevant to his ability to serve as president. I don’t believe I’m arguing just to argue when I assert that.

8 cookie jill { 07.02.08 at 7:59 pm }

The General cut through the spin and the cr** and told it like it was. And, people have been so accustomed to pandering and spin for so long, the truth hit them like a wet sock to the face…and they’re freaking out.

9 Bryan { 07.02.08 at 8:07 pm }

US Constitution, Article II, Section 1:

“No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.”

Then there’s the matter of actually qualifying for the ballot in sufficient states to make winning possible.

See Number 7.

10 Michael { 07.02.08 at 8:28 pm }

Steve, if you think I have said something to disparage Wesley Clark’s understanding of international relations or presidential politics is still to read something into my words that just wasn’t there.

I said I thought he mishandled the question. Now if you accept that Wesley Clark is not perfect, perhaps he could have answered more to the necessity and sufficiency as I suggest, or he might have taken it in another direction entirely.

But I could be wrong, you know. Maybe Wesley Clark handled the question perfectly, I don’t think he did. I think it’s alright for us to be critical of people on our own side, when we think they make mistakes. I’m not diminishing Wesley Clark’s breadth or depth when I say this.

Anyhow, it’s beyond that now, and McCain is imagining someone’s made off with his strawberries.

11 Steve Bates { 07.02.08 at 10:00 pm }

“… and McCain is imagining someone’s made off with his strawberries.” – Michael

Made off with his strawberries? I believe a different foodstuff is at issue here. In McCain’s younger years, he had the courage of his convictions, but since that time, someone seems to have made off with his nuts…

(It’s been over half a lifetime since I read that novel. I almost missed the reference.)

12 cookie jill { 07.02.08 at 11:36 pm }

“made off with his strawberries”….oh, oh. I think there is a food disparaging law that is still in affect. Look for CA strawberry farmers to come bearing lawsuits.

13 Bryan { 07.03.08 at 12:39 am }

Are there marbles as well as strawberries missing on the “USS McCaine”?

14 Kryten42 { 07.03.08 at 1:04 am }

Steve, McCain’s nuts are held firmly in his wife’s purse. LOL

As for the rest of it, I read what Clarke said in context, and I understand what he said and why and I agree. Of course, the loonies will take anything anyone with any intelligence and honesty says completely out of context. *shrug* Who cares?


15 Kirk Muse { 07.03.08 at 11:05 am }

The main qualification for most Republican candidate is to be born into a life of great privilege. Or marry into one.

John McCain is the son and grandson of a four-star Admiral.
He attended an elite private boarding school. He got into
the U. S. Naval Academy because of his father and grandfather.
He graduated 5th from the bottom of his class. He crashed and destroyed five U. S. Navy aircraft.

Cindy McCain has a net worth of greater than $100 million.
The McCain’s own 7 private homes–just like you and me.

16 Bryan { 07.03.08 at 2:25 pm }

Kirk, he only crashed four, the fifth was shot down, but privilege and money are the only roads left to the White House.