Barack Obama’s veep decision may have just gotten a little easier. General Wesley Clark possibly narrowed the field by one — himself — when he somewhat callously pointed out that John McCain’s “getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down” isn’t a qualification to be president. Many people might agree with that statement, but downplaying John McCain’s military service, and the horrors he went through as a POW, isn’t really the message that Obama — his own patriotism in doubt for a sizable percentage of (perhaps delusional) Americans — wants to be sending. Which is why he distanced himself from the comments yesterday even as Clark refused to back down. Meanwhile, the voices of outrage face off against those pundits who can afford to defend Clark.
• Barron YoungSmith believes that from a voter’s standpoint, it’s legitimate to ask “what lessons [McCain] draws from that experience,” since it’s certainly “possible to learn the wrong lessons from one’s personal experience in war.” Plus, “someone like General Clark might be in a position to judge.” [Plank/New Republic]
• Jim Geraghty thinks it’s “nice” that Obama honors McCain’s service, but it’s “also meaningless if everyone else in the Democratic party ignores” it. Obama can’t control what every surrogate says, but after the eighth slip like this, “it starts to look like a deliberate and cynical good cop/bad cop routine.” [Campaign Spot/National Review]
• Christopher Beam writes that the McCain campaign “could barely contain its joy at having the senator’s war record besmirched” because “any chance McCain has to talk about his military service is a net positive for the Arizona senator, especially if it’s in the context of an ‘attack.’” Obama is in a bind because Clark’s suggestion is “defensible” but it would be “political suicide” for Obama to admit it. The best thing for Obama would be to actually get his surrogates in line. [Slate]
• Jennifer Rubin figures that even giving Obama the benefit of the doubt, and assuming that “Clark in no way represents Obama’s thinking or strategy,” the best you can say is that “the Obama campaign’s messaging and choice of representatives is atrocious.” [Contentions/Commentary]
• Joan Walsh is disappointed that Obama rejected Clark’s remarks, as the general was “credibly taking on the argument that McCain’s military experience, itself, makes him uniquely qualified to be commander in chief.” Clark “deserved better.” [Salon]
• Marc Ambinder contends that while McCain has “the right to be insulted,” the outraged reaction from both sides is “contrived for political effect.” Both Democrats and Republicans “know Clark was being provocative and dumb.” Not that you can blame the Republicans “for seizing” on the comments. [Atlantic]
• Michael Scherer says some conservatives suspect Obama is “conducting a secret effort to smear McCain’s military service,” just as some liberals think McCain is “secretly exploiting underhanded attacks on Obama.” We won’t really “know for sure until after the conventions,” but for now, “we do have the candidates on record opposing this stuff. And the world is watching.” [Swampland/Time]
• Josh Marshall wonders whether the Obama campaign is trying to “have its cake and eat it too” by “mak[ing] sounds of disapproval, such as President Bush did in 2004 with respect to the Swift Boaters, while still gaining advantage from them.” If Obama has learned from previous Democratic defeats, then great, but “[e]xperience has taught me not to take it for granted.” [Talking Points Memo]
• John Soltz of VoteVets.org doesn’t “see what is so wrong about what General Clark said.” This was nothing like Swift-Boating, and the facts back Clark up, as McCain’s experience in Vietnam “apparently hasn’t infused him with a dose of good judgment.” [HuffPo]
• Andrew Romano tells Democrats that it’s wrong, and counterproductive, to question McCain’s military experience. Clark’s analysis wasn’t wrong, it’s just “so narrowminded and obvious that it doesn’t do any damage at all.” McCain never argued that getting shot down qualifies him to be president. But to claim that McCain’s honorable actions while a POW (like refusing to be released early) doesn’t tell us about his character is “absurd.” It’s not “the whole picture,” but it’s “undeniably, fundamentally relevant.” [Stumper/Newsweek] —Dan Amira
For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.