Torturing the text


Richard W. Crockett


General Wesley Clark has been accused of stirring a controversy when he answered a question from Bob Schieffer on CBS’s face the nation on Sunday June 29, 2008.  In my opinion, he spoke a simple truth.  Sometimes we are ask to believe that words of truth are unpatriotic, remarkable, or false.  We are sometimes asked to enshrine existing perceptions with a sacred aura, and political campaigns are notorious for trying to make the other side appear discredited, and much of the media has an economic interest in having these kind of stories and running them over and over.  In my opinion, Clark, in responding to a question, and in responding to an implied expression of worship for John McCain’s war experience by Bob Schieffer, spoke an unremarkable truth—simple truth.  Keep in mind that General Clark left Vietnam on a stretcher, so he is in a position to know what that kind of experience teaches and doesn’t teach. Here is how it went.

“Bob Schieffer: Well you, you went so far as to say that you thought John McCain was, quote, and these are your words, "untested and untried," And I must say I, I had to read that twice, because you're talking about somebody who was a prisoner of war. (Italics mine.) He was a squadron commander of the largest squadron in the Navy. He's been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for lo these many years. How can you say that John McCain is un- untested and untried? General?

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Because in the matters of national security policy making, it's a matter of understanding risk. It's a matter of gauging your opponents, and it's a matter of being held accountable. John McCain's never done any of that in his official positions. 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 Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in Air- in the Navy that he commanded, it wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, 'I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it-'

Bob Schieffer: Well-

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: ' -it publicly.' He hasn't made those calls, Bob.

Bob Schieffer: Well, well, General, maybe-


Bob Schieffer: Could I just interrupt you. If-


Bob Schieffer: I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean-

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK:  Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President.


Bob Schieffer: Really?! (Comment: Schieffer may be feigning dismay here for the interview, but he may really believe that “riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down” does qualifiy a candidate for the presidency.)

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: But Barack is not, . . . he is not running on the fact that he has made these national security pronouncements. He's running on his other strengths. He's running on the strengths of character, on the strengths of his communication skills, on the strengths of his judgment. And those are qualities that we seek in our national leadership.”


(June 29. 2008 Transcript by Reg NYC)


Senator Obama issued a statement “rejecting”  Clarks comments. It is reasonable to disassociate himself from the remark because he didn’t make the remark so he should get neither credit nor blame for it.


This is what the controversy is about.  CNN reported that Clark was “clarifying” his remarks.  I watched that.  It was not a clarification.  It was a reiteration.  Stick by your guns General Clark.  One does not need to retract the truth.