The above is Wes Clark on Face the Nation, suggesting that having been a prisoner of war during Vietnam doesn’t necessarily qualify John McCain to be President of the United States. Actually, Clark’s argument is more nuanced than that: he notes that McCain, for all his heroism, lacks command experience, which might really be relevant to working in the Oval Office. The best part of the clip, though, is the reaction — first incredulous, then angry, finally fuming — of Bob Schieffer, the show’s host. Schieffer, who served in the USAF for three years as a public information officer, simply can’t believe that Clark would dare spew such apostasy.
Clark’s appearance and then several follow-ups, the Obama camp’s speedy and perhaps ill-considered repudiation of Clark’s comments, and McCain’s subsequent efforts to claim that Clark besmirched his honor while simultaneously burning Old Glory and spitting on a nun have generated quite a bit of conversation today. (See, if you can stomach it: Clark “swiftboated” McCain.) All of which means that Barack Obama, because of an increasingly oft-used property of guilt-by-association that applies only to Democrats, doesn’t support our troops. It seems that most of the talk, as the preceding rant suggests, has been about the politics surrounding this absurd brouhaha.* I haven’t seen many people considering whether Clark is right on the merits, whether McCain’s tenure in a Vietnamese prison camp leaves him no more likely to succeed as president than Obama, who has no military background.
That’s where Fontana Labs provides us with some much-needed help. Labs kind of beat Clark to the punch about a week ago, responding, in a post over at Unfogged, to what was then Richard Cohen’s** latest in a succession of execrable columns. In that piece of drivel, Cohen suggests that, because of McCain’s wartime experience, the American people should ignore his serial flip-flopping of late. The Maverick will be resolute when it counts, Cohen assures us. Labs***, in his nut graf, replies:
Thanks in large part to John Doris and Gil Harman, a lot of philosophers are vaguely familiar with situationist psychologists who think that there’s very little predictive value to our folk-psychological character concepts. As I understand it, one situationist theme is that (for example) courage as traditionally conceived is far too broad: someone might have courage-in-situation-x but fail to have courage-in-situation-y, and there’s very little correlation between the two fine-grained traits. Hence we shouldn’t expect courage-on-the-battlefield to predict courage-in-committee-meetings. But we do, and so are led into error. McCain is a really interesting example of the phenomenon just because both his courage and his failure to be courageous are on full public display.
Yes, just so. And furthermore, circling back to and expanding upon Wes Clark’s original point about experience, history is agnostic on whether great warriors make great presidents. In the “yea” column you’ll find George Washington. Because I’m feeling generous and Eric’s looking over my shoulder, I’ll thow in Teddy Roosevelt. And if you insist that I expand the column to include borderline cases, we could also talk about Andrew Jackson****, Harry Truman, and Ike. The “nay” column is far longer, so I’ll just hit the highlights: Zachary Taylor, U.S. Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, John Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and, of course, George W. Bush.
Perhaps more interesting than any of the above, though, is this: the nation’s two greatest commanders in chief, and, not coincidentally, two greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, never served in the military.
The point here isn’t that heroic service in the armed forces should disqualify a candidate from the presidency. That’s just silly. But it’s equally silly to assume that valor on the battlefield will translate into excellence in the executive branch. That such a claim is the centerpiece of John McCain’s bid for the presidency — and make no mistake, it absolutely is — speaks volumes. Which is why McCain and his flying monkeys in the press corps are lashing out so fiercely at Wes Clark. All of that said, why Barack Obama is taking his whacks at Clark is anybody’s guess.
* See the updates. I’m totally wrong about this. Oops.
** Worse than ever for the Jews, thank you very much.
*** You’ll have to decide for yourself if “Fontana Labs” is just one of the many pseudonyms that “General Wesley Clark (C, Cuba)” deploys when he prowls the web. Clark used to be notorious for commenting under the handle, “SACEUR.” Until, that is, Petey outed him for hating on John Edwards.
**** You have no idea how much this pains me. No, really.
[Update: Here’s Clark artfully elaborating on his earlier comments without apologizing at all. Veep? Maybe so. Maybe this is all some super-complicated gambit in which Clark serves as attack dog, Obama disavows Clark’s comments, and then they come together to conquer the world. Via TPM.]
[Update II: Oh look, The Editors covered this issue. It looks like I was wrong that nobody was writing about substance. Please ignore my post. Sigh.]
[Update III: There’s also substance from the awesome Sir Charles at cogitamus, which I usually read every damn day. Rats. Wait, I have a novel idea: I think I’ll read my favorite blogs, beyond just TPM, before I write my posts in the future. Then I won’t look like an idiot. Er, quite as much of an idiot.]