Wesley Clark boldly goes where few have gone before

Wesley Clark draws criticism after questioning McCain's military credentials.

Published June 30, 2008 12:54PM (EDT)

Perhaps because of the four stars on his shoulder, retired Gen. Wesley Clark is bolder than most when it comes to criticizing John McCain's efforts to connect his military experience with his presidential qualifications. Indeed, Clark has been tougher than most in pushing back against the Republican nominee's pitch.

Clark, for example, spoke with the Huffington Post a few weeks ago, and was unrelenting in his criticism. "I know he's trying to get traction by seeking to play to what he thinks is his strong suit of national security," Clark said. "The truth is that, in national security terms, he's largely untested and untried. He's never been responsible for policy formulation. He's never had leadership in a crisis, or in anything larger than his own element on an aircraft carrier or [in managing] his own congressional staff. It's not clear that this is going to be the strong suit that he thinks it is."

Two weeks ago, Clark did it again on MSNBC. When the on-air media personalities noted that Obama, like McCain, has not been in a position to make leadership positions in a military context, Clark responded with the obvious point -- Obama's not the one making the claim.

Sunday, on CBS's "Face the Nation," Clark was just as emphatic.

It's not especially surprising that Clark's remarks aren't going over well on the right. Several conservative bloggers have the outrage meter turned up to 11, and the McCain campaign issued a statement accusing the Obama campaign of wanting to "question John McCain's military service," and allowing Obama's campaign surrogates "to demean and attack John McCain's military service record."

This morning on MSNBC, Mika Brzezinski and Andrea Mitchell admonished Clark, insisting that his remarks weren't "fair." Yesterday, CNN's Rick Sanchez accused Clark of trying to "Swift boat" McCain.

I can appreciate the fact that Clark's comments might seem intemperate, but the reaction is more than a little over the top.

First, there are no similarities between Clark's remarks and the Swift boat attacks. Clark never said, and wouldn't say, that McCain lied about his service, or won medals he hadn't earned.

Second, did Clark say anything that was, you know, false? To be sure, McCain served heroically, and endured torture and abuse that I can hardly imagine as a POW. The nation will always owe him a debt of gratitude for what he endured. But Clark's point is that this service, four decades ago, does not necessarily constitute a presidential qualification today. We don't hear that often, but that doesn't make it outrageous.

By Steve Benen

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