In Politico, TNR's Kirchick falsely claimed Clark's comments were part of a "pattern of attacks" on McCain as "psychologically unfit for presidential office"

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In a Politico op-ed, The New Republic's James Kirchick cited Wesley Clark's comments about Sen. John McCain on CBS' Face the Nation as part of a "pattern of attacks meant to insinuate that McCain's Vietnam experience not only shouldn't count as meaningful 'experience,' but rendered him psychologically unfit for presidential office." In fact, Clark did not "attack[]" McCain's Vietnam experience or suggest that it "rendered him psychologically unfit for presidential office." Kirchick also asserted that "one would be foolish not to at least consider the possibility they [the "attacks"] were coordinated by the Obama campaign." But Clark has been saying for months that McCain's military service alone does not make him qualified to be president, including while he was speaking on behalf of Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

In a July 1Politico op-ed, James Kirchick, assistant editor of The New Republic, falsely asserted that retired Gen. Wesley Clark's comments about Sen. John McCain on CBS' Face the Nation were part of a "pattern of attacks meant to insinuate that McCain's Vietnam experience not only shouldn't count as meaningful 'experience,' but rendered him psychologically unfit for presidential office." In fact, Clark did not "attack[]" McCain's Vietnam experience or suggest that it "rendered him psychologically unfit for presidential office." Rather, Clark praised McCain as a "hero" for "his service as a prisoner of war," while, as Zachary Roth wrote at the Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk blog, "question[ing] the relevance of McCain's combat experience as a qualification to be president of the United States."

Moreover, Kirchick wrote: "Clark said that McCain is 'untested and untried,' and elaborated that, 'I don't think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.' " However, Kirchick did not note that, in making the "getting shot down" comment, Clark was repeating Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer's words. As Media Matters for America has noted, Clark's comment came in response to Schieffer's statement that, unlike McCain, Sen. Barack Obama has not "ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down."

Referring to Clark's comments and those of others, Kirchick also asserted that "one would be foolish not to at least consider the possibility they were coordinated by the Obama campaign." However, belying Kirchick's suggestion of possible coordination by the Obama campaign is the fact that Clark has for months been saying that McCain's military service alone does not make him qualified to be president, including while speaking on behalf of Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Indeed, in a July 1 New York Sun article, Josh Gerstein reported:

General Clark has for months demonstrated a willingness and propensity to question the notion that Mr. McCain's wartime service would be of much use to him as president. Answering a question from The New York Sun in March, the former NATO commander said he believed Mrs. Clinton had more useful national security experience than Mr. McCain. "Having served as a fighter pilot -- and I know my experience as a company commander in Vietnam -- doesn't prepare you to be commander in chief in terms of dealing with the national strategic issues that are involved. It may give you a feeling for what the troops are going through in the process, but it doesn't give you the experience firsthand of the national strategic issues," he said.

Further, in a March 3 New York Sun article, Gerstein reported that during a March 2 conference call arranged by Clinton's presidential campaign, in response to a question from The New York Sun, Clark praised McCain's "service as a fighter pilot" and "his courage as a prisoner of war," but added that "having served as a fighter pilot ... doesn't prepare you to be commander in chief in terms of dealing with the national strategic issues that are involved." Gerstein also reported that McCain's campaign "did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment for this article." From the March 2 conference call (audio recording available here):

GERSTEIN: Hi, it's Josh Gerstein with The New York Sun. I wanted to ask, if when people were saying that Senator Clinton had the most experience in the race, they're including Senator McCain in that, and if somebody could just expand on why she would be preferable to Senator McCain on national security issues. Thank you.

HOWARD WOLFSON (Clinton campaign spokesman): Is there anybody --

CLARK: I'd like to do that. To start, I'm not the only one who's going to have an answer on this. I know that. I don't want to hog the call, but it's an issue that I've given a lot of thought to. You know, in the national security business, the question is, do you have -- when you've served in uniform -- do you really have the relevant experience for making the decisions at the top that have to be made? Everybody admires John McCain 's service as a fighter pilot, his courage as a prisoner of war. There's no issue there. He was -- he's a great man and an honorable man. But having served as a fighter pilot -- and I know my experience as a company commander in Vietnam -- that doesn't prepare you to be commander-in-chief in terms of dealing with the national strategic issues that are involved. It may give you a feeling for what the troops are going through in the process, but it doesn't give you the experience first hand of the national strategic issues.

If you look at what Hillary Clinton has done during her time as First Lady of the United States, her travel to 80 countries, representing the United States abroad, plus her years in the Senate, I think she's the most experienced and capable person in the race, not only for representing America abroad, but for dealing with the tough issues of national security.

Kirchick also asserted:

In May, Newsweek published a cover story confirming the Obama campaign's fears, declaring that "the Republican Party has been successfully scaring voters since 1968."

Writers Evan Thomas and Richard Wolfe [sic] concluded that the 2008 presidential election will be no different. "It is a sure bet that the GOP will try to paint Obama as 'the other' -- as a haughty black intellectual who has Muslim roots (Obama is a Christian) and hangs around with America-haters."

But has it been a "sure bet?"

Not really. Thus far, no one with any serious affiliation to John McCain's campaign has resorted to the alleged "scare" tactics in which Republicans -- and, apparently, only Republicans -- have been perfecting [sic] since Richard Nixon was first elected. On the contrary, if the past few months have showed us anything, it's that the Obama campaign is the one dealing in crude smears.

There have been only two incidents in which people officially associated with McCain have done anything approaching what Thomas and Wolfe predicted those dastardly, conniving Republicans would inevitably do. In February, a conservative talk radio host speaking at a McCain rally made reference to "Barack Hussein Obama." McCain immediately condemned the statement, leading the embittered and embarrassed professional yacker to complain that McCain "threw me under the bus." The only other smear-worthy episode occurred in March, when the McCain campaign suspended a low-level aide who provided a link on his Twitter account to a video featuring the rants of Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Heavy stuff, to be sure.

But Kirchick's assertion that "[t]here have been only two incidents in which people officially associated with McCain" have engaged in "smear-worthy" attacks on Obama is false. While Kirchick noted that a McCain campaign aide reportedly distributed a video smearing Obama, he did not note that the McCain campaign also reportedly circulated to reporters an op-ed, in which NewsMax.com chief Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler wrote that "Obama's close association with Mr. [Jeremiah] Wright ... raises legitimate questions about Mr. Obama's fundamental beliefs about his country," which "deserve a clearer answer than Mr. Obama has provided so far." McCain's campaign later reportedly said it sent the Kessler op-ed "in error."

Further, Republican state parties have attacked or promoted smears of Obama. The Tennessee Republican Party issued a February 25 press release titled "Anti-Semites for Obama" that stated in its original form: "The Tennessee Republican Party today joins a growing chorus of Americans concerned about the future of the nation of Israel, the only stable democracy in the Middle East, if Sen. Barack Hussein Obama is elected president of the United States." The press release included the picture of Obama in traditional Somalian clothing that Kirchick identified in his op-ed as being a part of a smear campaign against Obama. As Media Matters previously noted, McCain "condemned" the Tennessee GOP's press release, but later touted the endorsement of the group's chairman, who was quoted attacking Obama in the press release. Moreover, a television ad aired by the North Carolina Republican Party shortly before the May 6 North Carolina primary showed footage of controversial comments by Wright and attacked Obama as "too extreme." As Media Matters noted, several supporters listed on McCain's website were listed as having leadership positions on the North Carolina Republican Party's website as well, and some had also donated money to both the North Carolina GOP and McCain's presidential campaign. In addition, on May 1, FoxNews.com reported that McCain said "he wouldn't have run the GOP ad, 'but I am not going to referee, I am just going to run my own campaign.' " Further, in a June 12 article, the Boston Herald quoted McCain saying, "I can't be a referee of every spot run on television," and described his comments as "a softening of his view on the negative campaign tactic [of using 527 organizations]" that "opens the door to a no-holds-barred five-month scramble."

Kirchick also repeated a mischaracterization of Clinton's response during an interview on CBS' 60 Minutes, when correspondent Steve Kroft asked whether she "believe[d] that Senator Obama is a Muslim." Kirchick wrote that when Clinton was "[a]sked if there was any truth to the smear that Obama is a Muslim, she infamously replied, 'As far as I know,' it wasn't the case." In fact, Clinton's first three words in response to the question "You don't believe that Senator Obama is a Muslim?" were, "Of course not." Clinton also likened the rumors about Obama's religion to false rumors about her: "Look, I have been the target of so many ridiculous rumors. I have a great deal of sympathy for anybody who gets, you know, smeared with the kind of rumors that go on all the time."

From Kirchick's July 1 Politico op-ed:

The only obstacle between Barack Obama and the presidency is the mountain of smears that will no doubt come his way. That's the narrative that Obama supporters -- and his swooning chroniclers in the mainstream media -- would have us believe.

Obama himself set up a website, fighthesmears.com, correcting some e-mail chain letters that allege he "can't produce his birth certificate," is "secretly a Muslim" and that he "won't say the Pledge of Allegiance." In May, Newsweek published a cover story confirming the Obama campaign's fears, declaring that "the Republican Party has been successfully scaring voters since 1968."

Writers Evan Thomas and Richard Wolfe [sic] concluded that the 2008 presidential election will be no different. "It is a sure bet that the GOP will try to paint Obama as 'the other' -- as a haughty black intellectual who has Muslim roots (Obama is a Christian) and hangs around with America-haters."

But has it been a "sure bet?"

Not really. Thus far, no one with any serious affiliation to John McCain's campaign has resorted to the alleged "scare" tactics in which Republicans -- and, apparently, only Republicans -- have been perfecting [sic] since Richard Nixon was first elected. On the contrary, if the past few months have showed us anything, it's that the Obama campaign is the one dealing in crude smears.

There have been only two incidents in which people officially associated with McCain have done anything approaching what Thomas and Wolfe predicted those dastardly, conniving Republicans would inevitably do. In February, a conservative talk radio host speaking at a McCain rally made reference to "Barack Hussein Obama." McCain immediately condemned the statement, leading the embittered and embarrassed professional yacker to complain that McCain "threw me under the bus." The only other smear-worthy episode occurred in March, when the McCain campaign suspended a low-level aide who provided a link on his Twitter account to a video featuring the rants of Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Heavy stuff, to be sure.

Contrast the absence of smears from the McCain camp with some of the outlandish remarks made by high-ranking Obama supporters. In April, West Virginia Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV said that because McCain "was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet," and "was long gone when they hit," the Arizona senator who spent five and a half years in a Vietcong tiger cage having his arms repeatedly broken didn't really understand the carnage of war. "What happened when [the missiles] get to the ground?" Rockefeller asked a crowd at an Obama rally. "He doesn't know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues." That the great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller would impugn the wartime experience of John McCain is especially rich, given that the only "battle" Rockefeller has seen is when he hunts wild game at his 80-acre ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Rockefeller's smear was the first salvo in a pattern of attacks meant to insinuate that McCain's Vietnam experience not only shouldn't count as meaningful "experience," but rendered him psychologically unfit for presidential office. In May, Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin said of McCain, "Everything is looked at from his life experiences, from always having been in the military, and I think that can be pretty dangerous." Over the weekend, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark said that McCain is "untested and untried," and elaborated that, "I don't think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president." Clark, you may remember, ran for president in 2004 on his record as a career military officer, so his comment, which he has not retracted, was not just morally offensive but self-discrediting.

The smears didn't stop there. On Monday, Obama foreign policy adviser Rand Beers unfavorably compared McCain's POW experience with "the members of the Senate who were in the ground forces or who were ashore in Vietnam," and who "have a very different view of Vietnam and the cost ... than John McCain does because he was in isolation essentially for many of those years and did not experience the turmoil here or the challenges that were involved for those of us who served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War."

It's curious how anyone could argue that a man with such visceral understanding of the capacity for what America's enemies will do to our men and women in uniform doesn't fully appreciate the cost of war. But even more troubling is the unmistakable pattern of these smears, all of them unsubtly alleging that McCain is an unhinged, mentally unstable warmonger who would deploy soldiers capriciously because he hasn't truly experienced the horrors of ground battle. Indeed, the claims of these four men -- and the short period of time in which they were all uttered -- are so similar in tone that one would be foolish not to at least consider the possibility they were coordinated by the Obama campaign.

Nevertheless, the fears of Obama supporters that their candidate lies eternally vulnerable to GOP smears exists [sic] only in their fevered imaginations. The evidence of dirty Republican tricks has been utterly absent this campaign season. And if anyone has tried to smear Barack Obama in the way that Thomas, Wolfe and other Democratic partisans allege, it was not the Republican National Committee, but rather Hillary Rodham Clinton and her surrogates. In February, the Drudge Report claimed that the Clinton campaign circulated photos of Obama in a traditional East African turban and robe, with the message that the images showed him "dressed." Asked if there was any truth to the smear that Obama is a Muslim, she infamously replied, "As far as I know," it wasn't the case. After the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, she said the results showed that "Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again."

The belief that "the Republican Party has been successfully scaring voters since 1968" is a comforting salve for Democrats. After all, it's much easier for them to demonize conservatives than consider that the reason for their electoral defeats may lie with liberal ideas. Please don't take that as a "smear."

Network/Outlet
The New Republic, The Politico
Person
James Kirchick
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, John McCain, 2008 Elections
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