McCain bristles at Vietnam question

Asked how his Vietnam experience prepared him for the presidency, McCain becomes "visibly angry."

Published July 2, 2008 9:05PM (EDT)

The New Republic's Michael Crowley, commenting on the still-inexplicable Wesley Clark flap, noted today, "I do think the whole episode was bad for Obama in the short term, although if it plants seeds with MSM editors to think more critically about McCain's military experience down the road that would be substantially mitigating."

That sounds about right. The whole point of Clark's comments, which he has been emphasizing for quite some time, is that John McCain's military service during the war in Vietnam, while obviously honorable, is not necessarily a presidential qualification, despite what the McCain campaign would have us believe. If news outlets stop to consider this point, just a little, in the midst of its Clark free-for-all, this might help change the nature of the discussion.

Consider what happened earlier today, while McCain was talking to reporters on a plane over Colombia, South America. The Clark subject came up, and McCain urged Obama to "cut him loose." Then, ABC News' David Wright explained, things got rather tense.

McCain became visibly angry when I asked him to explain how his Vietnam experience prepared him for the Presidency.

"Please," he said, recoiling back in his seat in distaste at the very question.

Soon after, McCain "collected himself" and apologized for losing his cool. "I kind of reacted the way I did because I have a reluctance to talk about my experiences," he said, adding, "I am always reluctant to talk about these things."

First, the question was pretty straightforward: How did McCain's service in the war prepare him for the presidency? For a candidate who emphasizes his military service all the time, this shouldn't have been especially difficult to answer, and it certainly shouldn't have left him "visibly angry."

Second, it's curious that McCain explained his incensed reaction by pointing to his reluctance to "talk about my experiences." Whether McCain talks about his service or not is entirely up to him, but he really doesn't seem especially reluctant at all. In fact, McCain talks about his Vietnam service all the time, and his campaign has made it the basis for multiple campaign ads. Indeed, in one commercial, the McCain campaign literally included interrogation footage from McCain's days as a prisoner of war.

Given this, it seems odd that a question about how this service prepared him for the presidency would set him off like this. Indeed, by constantly talking about his service, McCain has been making the implicit case that his military background necessarily prepared him for the presidency.

Is no one supposed to ask why?

By Steve Benen

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