This Sunday, on CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer commented that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) may not have the experience to be president because he has not “ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down.” After having already expressed his respect for McCain’s military record, Gen. Wesley Clark responded by arguing that “getting shot down is [not] a qualification to be President.” The McCain campaign issued this statement condemning Clark’s remarks:
The American people know that John McCain’s record of service and sacrifice is not a matter of debate. He has written about and discussed his service as a POW extensively — often in excruciating and painful detail. The American people will judge harshly anyone who demeans or attacks that service.
Then, last night, on MSNBC’s Veridct with Dan Abrams, Clark again reiterated that “this is an issue about the qualifications to be President” and said, “I want to assure you I would never, never diss someone’s service.” Watch It:
Much of the traditional media quickly asserted that Clark was impugning McCain’s patriotism. CBS’ Dean Reynolds suggested that Clark had questioned McCain’s patriotism and had “critici[zed]” McCain’s “service, including five years as a POW.” And NBC’s Brian Williams falsely suggested that Clark had impugned McCain’s “war record.”
In reality, Clark’s argument that military service is not sufficient alone to be president is an argument that has been made by McCain himself:
- During an interview with National Journal, John McCain was asked if “military service inherently makes somebody better equipped to be commander-in-chief.” McCain said, “Absolutely not…I absolutely don’t believe that it’s necessary.” [National Journal, 2/15/2003]
- I believe that military service is the most honorable endeavor an American may undertake. But I’ve never believed that lack of military service disqualifies one from occupying positions of political leadership or as Commander and Chief. In America, the people are sovereign, and they decide who is and is not qualified to lead us. [American Legion Speech, 9/7/1999]
- Earlier this year at Washington’s Gridiron Club, where humor is the required fare, McCain lay bare what underlies his candidacy. Wearing a jacket outlandishly festooned with dozens of fake military medals, McCain said, “The question I ask myself every morning while shaving in front of the mirror is: OK, John, you’re an incredible war hero, an inspiration to all Americans. But what qualifies you to be president of the United States?” [Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/7/1999]
In fact, in an interview on NPR on May 1, 2004, McCain noted that “some of our greatest presidents have not [had military experience]. … And all of them turned out to be fine commanders in chief.” Perhaps the media might take notice of what McCain himself has said.
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.