It is a strange world indeed when the presidential candidate of one party basically endorses his opponent.
Yet that is the situation that we now find ourselves in. On June 29, retired General Wesley Clark, who has endorsed Democratic Senator Barack Obama of Illinois for president, said this concerning the Republican presidential candidate, Arizona Senator John McCain: “I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces, as a prisoner of war. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn’t held executive responsibility.” When asked for further explanation, Mr. Clark continued: “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”
Any thinking person would need to search long and hard and, ultimately unsuccessfully, to find something controversial in those statements. He or she would also be hard pressed to locate within Mr. Clark’s words anything that brought into question Mr. Clark’s opinion on the patriotism of Mr. McCain. Yet Mr. Obama apparently felt the need to disassociate himself from Mr. Clark’s words. In response to those words, he said the following: “For those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country – no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides.”
It appears that, for many, the fact that Mr. McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam elevates him nearly to the status of deity. Nothing Mr. Clark said implied anything about Mr. McCain’s patriotism. Indeed he praised Mr. McCain’s alleged sacrifice (see Counterpunch: print version April 1 – 15, 2008, Vol. 15, No 7, or online version, June 13 – 15: War Hero? Meet the Real John McCain: North Vietnam’s Go-to Collaborator). His offense, at least in the eyes of Mr. Obama, was to suggest that victimization in a war does not qualify one to be commander-in-chief.
Once again, the level of political discourse in the U.S. is reduced to meaningless sound bytes, sufficient to appeal to the lowest common denominator in the thought processes of the potential voter. Let’s see now: John McCain, former POW. That means that he is qualified to manage two wars; deal effectively with several international crises without killing millions more people in obscene and illegal wars; fix the mortgage crisis that has ten percent of the U.S. population in danger of losing their homes; provide gainful employment for the millions of Americans who are out of work; repair the badly broken educational system; return the respect of the world to a nation that is hated and feared almost universally, and unite a widely polarized citizenship.
Let us go back four short years and refresh the memories of those who have conveniently forgotten the past. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, also served in Vietnam during that war. Mr. Kerry, in his role as an officer, lead swift boat patrols into dangerous, enemy-controlled areas. He was wounded in service and was awarded accordingly. Yet during the 2004 campaign, the Republicans called into question his service and while those statements which came to be known as ‘swift boating’ are easily remembered, any Republican statements disavowing them do not come to mind quite so easily.
But for Mr. McCain, who dropped bombs on unsuspecting peasant farmers without ever needing to see the terror, pain and anguish he caused, Mr. Obama felt the need to rush to defend him from words that were only factual and in no way insulting. Four years ago, as Mr. Kerry’s former fellow soldiers, those who served side-by-side in the horror of war with him, stood proudly beside him during the campaign, the supporters of George Bush insulted his service and questioned his patriotism while Mr. Bush remained silent on the subject.
Not so many months ago it was Mr. Obama’s patriotism that was doubted. He, after all, had stopped wearing an American flag lapel pin. Is this not sufficient to disqualify him from public office? Doesn’t anyone with an iota of patriotism in the U.S. wear an American flag lapel pin? Perhaps for some an American flag decal on their car is all that is necessary, but for a U.S. senator? No, some conservative Republicans said, without a lapel pin, he is no patriot.
And this apparently is to be one of the buzz words of the current campaign: patriotism. Who is more patriotic? Second to that vital question, or perhaps third or fourth, are such questions as who can best stop the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan, who can best repair the badly damaged U.S. economy and who can best restore America’s reputation at home and abroad. But perhaps those issues need not be looked at too closely, especially by candidates who are basically clueless about how to resolve them. Better for them to keep political discourse at such meaningless basics as who is more or less patriotic: a victim of an imperial war or an African-American who has achieved the ‘American dream’ (whatever on earth that is).
“As he’s said many times before, Sen. Obama honors and respects Senator McCain’s service, and of course he rejects yesterday’s statement by Gen. Clark.” So said Obama spokesman Bill Burton in response to Mr. Clark’s comments.
So there you have it. Mr. Obama rejects Mr. Clark’s opinion that Mr. McCain’s experience in war does not qualify him to be president. Therefore, Mr. Obama must believe that Mr. McCain is so qualified.
In the last, long year the U.S. has been subjected to more nonsense than anyone should have to experience in a life time. From former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani proclaiming first-hand knowledge of the motivations of those who attacked that city on September 11, 2001, simply because he happened to be in New York City when it happened, to Mr. Obama endorsing Mr. McCain’s qualifications to be commander-in-chief because of five years as a prisoner of war, the level of politically stupid statements has been proven boundless. Conversely, dismissing the words of Republican Texas Representative Ron Paul, who said that the September 11 attacks were certainly caused, at least partly, by longstanding U.S. policy in the Middle East (based on no less a document than Congress’s 9/11 report), or disavowing the thoughtful, reasonable statements of Mr. Clark about Mr. McCain’s qualifications to be president, does nothing to assist the U.S. voter in determining which candidate is best suited for the daunting job he seeks.
But perhaps doing so is not necessary. Why bother to educate voters in any meaningful way, when pseudo-patriotic sound bytes are all that is necessary? Just a few short weeks ago Mr. McCain talked about what the world might look like after his potential first term; it was a rosy picture that he painted indeed. When asked how he would accomplish such lofty goals, he replied: “Goal setting and achievement.” So there.
Why Mr. McCain has any credibility left with anyone after outlining his administration as one of ‘goal setting and achievement’ is astounding. But he seems highly credible to Mr. Obama, who quickly distanced himself from thoughtful, reasonable comments made about him by Mr. Clark.
If U.S. voters, or anyone in the world, for that matter, had hoped that politics as usual in the U.S. might be different during this election campaign, Mr. Obama has now clearly signaled that that is not to be the case. We can all expect more flag waving, more bowing to Mr. McCain every time he chooses to drag out his POW experience, and more of the same superficial dialogue that characterizes any national U.S. campaign. There will be the usual pandering to this and that constituency, while each candidate keeps a close eye on the donations from their highest god, corporate America.
It is a marvel that, in a country with as large a population as the U.S., the two people representing the major parties in the current election are the best the nation could offer. Surely, somewhere from sea to polluted sea there are candidates far better qualified, men and women who could realistically address the problems the country faces. But no, the U.S. voter is stuck with a choice between one panderer and another, unless he or she chooses to vote for a third party candidate. Those candidates have virtually no chance of election, because they do not worship at the same golden altar as the Republican and Democratic candidates. And so we are stuck with a choice between Messrs Obama and McCain. It is a sorry state for any nation to find itself in.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.