Face the Nation? Let's Face Reality

On CBS’s Face the Nation this last Sunday, genial host Bob Schieffer asked General Wesley Clark to talk about John McCain’s war record, specifically his criticisms as to McCain’s readiness to serve in the highest office, and how that compares to Barack Obama’s. Fair enough.

But what it turned into was peculiar. Clark was making the salient point that even admirable military service doesn’t actually qualify a person to be President of the United States of America. This is just common sense -- just because someone may well be a hero in one sense doesn’t qualify them to lead in any capacity they’d choose.

(This is an understandable misconception, however, given American advertising—after all, Michael Jordan shills Hanes underwear, and it’s not like there’s anyone out there thinking, “Hey, if Michael Jordan likes Hanes, then it must be a good product, because if there’s anything that man understands, it’s underpants.”)

Clark’s statement was taken as an attack by both Schieffer and no less an institution than CNN, which characterized it thusly: “Wesley Clark tried to swiftboat John McCain today…” Please.

It’s ironic that the term “swiftboating” has now entered our dictionary of political discourse as an unfair attack based on unreliable or deliberately skewed information—and that at the same time, the original loathsome attack against John Kerry’s military record still stands in some people’s (small) minds as valid.

But that aside, the “swiftboat” charge here is ludicrous. This isn’t an unfair attack. It’s not even an attack. It’s an observation. Here’s the exchange:

Clark: I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

Scheiffer: (in a shocked tone) Really?!?

Yes, Bob, really. (And you really need to hear Schieffer’s tone of voice here—he might as well be clutching his pearls, pursing his lips, and adding “well, I never!” to this statement.) Military service itself does not qualify someone to lead the country. Historically, it’s been taken as such, but this is no longer the Eisenhower era; old ways are not always good ways. McCain’s problem with this is that his war record is the note he chooses to continually hit; it’s the bedrock of his campaign superstructure. It’s gotten him this far, so it’s obviously not a bad strategy.

But at the same time, McCain (and his people) can’t protest this as an unfair attack just because it wasn’t supposed to be said. After all, the wizard didn’t protest the curtain-pulling when it was revealed that it was he who was the “great and powerful Oz”. He just gracefully accepted it, and floated off in his balloon.

The worst part of this whole thing is that Bob Schieffer has a better reputation than this. CNN used to have a better reputation than this. One used to have to go to FoxNews for this sort of ridiculousness. So much for the liberal media bias. -- Teague Bohlen


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