Showing posts with label wesley clark. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wesley clark. Show all posts

7/01/2008

The Wesley Clark Gaffe in Context

Due to his military service, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the threat of terrorism, national security is John McCain's calling card and is the one issue where he outpolls rival Barack Obama. Using the strategy perfected by Karl Rove of attacking an opponent's strength, McCain's military service has been sharply criticized by both the right and the left. CNN commentator Jack Cafferty even wondered if McCain's military service is overrated.

Former General Wesley Clark created a firestorm of controversy last weekend when he criticized John McCain's presidential leadership ability:

"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."
CBS's Bob Schieffer then reminded Clark that Barack Obama did not have this experience either to which Clark quipped, "Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."

Republicans and the McCain campaign immediately called on Obama to repudiate Clark's remarks. In addition to putting Obama on the defensive, Wesley Clark likely took himself out of contention to be his running mate.

Given the bluntness of his remarks, Republican outrage was predictable (although they may be overplaying their hand by using this as an opportunity to attack Clark's military record in return). However, what is lost in the ensuing political posturing, denouncements, and expressions of outrage is the actual message Clark was trying to convey.

Wesley Clark was arguing that getting captured by enemy forces has no correlation with executive leadership. And even though this may be impolitic to say, he makes a valid point. The fact that McCain endured torture and made it home alive without dishonoring his uniform or the nation he served obviously makes him a hero worth everyone's respect. But at the same time, the fact that he got shot down and captured by the enemy has no bearing whatsoever on his ability to be President. Wesley Clark was arguing that executive judgment and being the victim of an enemy attack have no relationship. It's obviously difficult criticizing a former POW on anything related to the military, but this point is at least worth considering.

Having your house broken into does not make you an authority on home security measures. (It does, however, make you uniquely qualified to talk about the impact of crime.)

Being diagnosed with a terminal illness does not make you an authority on cutting edge medical research. (It does, however, make you uniquely qualified to talk about the effect of such an illness on families.)

Having to apply for food stamps does not make you an authority on entitlement reform. (It does, however, make your perspective on the reasons why people need federal assistance a bit more credible.)

Wesley Clark is arguing that being captured by enemy forces makes John McCain an authority on talking about the demands faced by our armed forces in combat, not on executive leadership. The problem is, even though Clark's argument is valid, it is politically foolish because criticizing McCain's military service only reinforces Barack Obama's lack of military service and shifts the conversation back to McCain's strength. Also, time Obama has to spend defending McCain's war record and distancing himself from his surrogates is time not being spent hammering Republicans on the economy.

Interestingly, this conjures up the 2004 presidential campaign when John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, had his patriotism and military credentials impugned by people who had never even worn the uniform. George Bush, who never served in a combat zone, was seen as tougher on national security than McCain in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. It seems that McCain learned the lessons of hardball politics and the art of swiftboating and was determined not to become their latest casualty.

Barack Obama never served in the military. He was too young to be drafted during the Vietnam War and spent most of his adulthood living during peaceful times. Obama himself has been quite civil and respectful regarding McCain's military service and even turning it into a pivot by reminding voters of McCain's flawed judgment as it pertains to the chaos in Iraq. But as the fallout from Clark's remarks illustrates, attacking one's military credentials is risky business, no matter how valid the point may be. A bit more tact on behalf of Wesley Clark may have led the media to question the actual substance of his remarks rather than the way the remarks were delivered.

Score one for John McCain.

4/27/2008

Obama's Veepstakes

Barack Obama lost last week's Pennsylvania primary by 10 points. Since then, Clinton and the media have been buzzing about the notion that Obama may actually be a weaker general election candidate than the former First Lady. This was the source of a good debate over at Not Very Bright, one of the more popular South Carolina bloggers. NVB correctly argued that even though Obama lost Pennsylvania, the fact remains that Clinton did not amass enough pledged delegates to make a difference. I disagreed and said that pledged delegates don't really matter because superdelegates' main responsibility is to nominate someone who can win in November, and not to simply echo the winner of the pledged delegate race. (Normally, these two ideas coincide, but this year might be different.)

However, this post will not address the electability of both candidates. Instead, I will just pretend that this race is over and that Barack Obama will be the nominee. Thus, the focus switches from how he can finally put Clinton away to whom he will tap as his running mate, which leads me to this post.

First, Obama's running mate must satisfy several preconditions:

1. This candidate cannot be a knuckle dragging partisan. Such a candidate would cancel out his message of unity.

2. This candidate must not be an Iraq defender. It would be ideal for Obama to tap someone who had similar "judgment" regarding the war, but politicians who have since come out against it probably aren't disqualified. This "judgment" is one of the cornerstones of his campaign, so he cannot choose a running mate who contradicts this.

3. This candidate should be able to appeal to Whites and rural voters. Obama is still smarting from his ill-conceived remarks about rural voters "clinging" to guns and religion. Blacks, liberal Whites, and urban voters were already in Obama's corner. More moderate and rural Whites were slowly warming up to him. They may have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt earlier, but taking Bittergate in conjunction with Michelle Obama's "proud" remarks and Jeremiah Wright might be too much for them to overlook. And there also remains a silent subset of the electorate that is simply uncomfortable voting for someone of color, as the Bradley effect suggests.

4. This candidate should be able to compensate for Obama's perceived weaknesses regarding experience and national defense. Tapping a Senate freshman or a one-term governor would not do much to quell the concerns about Obama not being ready for primetime.

5. This candidate should help heal the rift that has opened up between the Obama and Clinton camps. The acrimony between them is creating real divisions that risk sending Democrats to John McCain in November or keeping Democrats at home. This is not to say that Obama needs to ask Clinton to be his veep, but he does need to extend an olive branch somehow to her supporters, lest he risk having to spend precious weeks trying to win them back the hard way.

So let's address some of the more common names generating VP buzz:

John Edwards will not be on the bottom half of an Obama ticket. To start, Edwards already ran for VP and would probably loathe to do it a second time around. Secondly, Edwards was unable to deliver North Carolina for John Kerry in 2004, so his electoral heft is weak. And finally, Edwards has yet to endorse Obama--a point not lost on the Obama campaign. Maybe Obama would tap Edwards to be Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, or a poverty czar, but Vice President is probably out of the question.

A lot of people have been buzzing about Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. A former Republican with a strong military background, Webb would certainly enhance Obama's ticket by providing credibility on foreign affairs, national defense, and the ability to appeal to rural voters and gun owners. The problem with Webb, however, is that he is a perfect fit for Virginia as its junior senator. Should he be tapped for Vice President, his Senate seat would be lost. Yes, the governor of Virginia is a Democrat who would appoint a Democrat to replace Webb, but the most attractive candidate (former Governor Mark Warner) is already running for retiring Senator John Warner's seat. With the prospect of the Democrats making it to a filibuster-proof 60 Senate seats, Webb would probably be better off representing the people of Virginia.

General Wesley Clark would be an attractive option in that he would help bridge the gap between the Obama and Clinton camps. As a former NATO commander and four-star general, Clark would instantly give Obama's ticket the ability to go toe-to-toe with or even outdo John McCain when it comes to military affairs. It's hard to tell a retired four-star general that he is weak on defense. Clark would also probably deliver Arkansas and give McCain a run for his money in Virginia. Clark ran unsuccessfully for the White House in 2004 and only won the primary in Oklahoma before being forced to quit. Since then, he has improved his political skills and is probably a better campaigner now. This would be a smart pick for Obama.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson turned out to be one of the biggest busts of this year's presidential cycle. He had the ultimate resume, but turned out to be a disappointing candidate in the debates and struggled to connect with voters. However, now that the race for #1 is more or less settled, perhaps he can relax a bit more knowing that he simply has to run against John McCain instead of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Joe Biden at the same time. Richardson would be a tremendous help to Obama because he could help deliver the Latino vote and make New Mexico and Colorado more competitive. And the fact that Richardson drew the Clintons' ire (and was even called Judas) by endorsing Obama displayed a level of courage and loyalty that John Edwards has failed to do thus far. The National Rifle Association loves Richardson and he cannot be pegged as a tax-and-spend Democrat. But would a "black-brown" ticket be too much "change" for the nation to handle at once?

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius endorsed Obama and is highly popular in her state. She would be able to appeal to red state voters as well as female Clinton voters. If Obama wishes to heal the rift between his camp and Clinton's, she might be an attractive way to do so. White women form the base of Clinton's support and many of them are sticking with her because of the historical nature of her candidacy and the perception that her rivals and the media have been unfair to her because of it. But are they loyal to Clinton because she's a Clinton, or are they loyal to Clinton because she's a woman? If it's the latter, then Governor Sebelius may be able to help. If it's the former, Clinton's female supporters will either have to grudgingly accept Obama or simply stay home. Kansas is an overwhelmingly Republican state. Even with Sebelius on the ticket, it might be too much to ask of her to deliver it in a presidential election year.

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano also endorsed Obama early and is popular in her state. However, she was unable to deliver Arizona for Obama in the primary. And the fact that favorite son John McCain hails from Arizona, she probably couldn't deliver the state for him in November either. If Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee were the Republican nominee, maybe Napolitano would be a more attractive option. But John McCain eliminates her because of his popularity in her state.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg appears unlikely. He has lots of money, but probably does not add much to an Obama ticket. His greatest assets are his personal wealth and the fact that he's an independent. That ties in nicely with Obama's message of unity. But what state could Bloomberg deliver? Obama should be able to win New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey without him. Thus, it's hard to see the argument for Bloomberg over other options.

Retiring Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska would be a fascinating choice for veep. Like Wesley Clark, Hagel gives Obama some much needed heft in terms of military and foreign affairs expertise. And as a Republican, he would definitely lend credibility to Obama's message of unity. A Hagel pick would show voters that Obama doesn't just talk about bipartisanship, but actually practices it. Hagel was considered part of the Unity '08 movement and was rumored to be considering a third-party ticket with Bloomberg. Surely he'd be receptive to running with Obama because they both have an interest in getting politicians of all stripes to work together. Having a split ticket like this would make it really hard for Republicans to paint Obama as an ultra liberal because ultra liberals don't select center-right Republicans as their running mates. And should John McCain choose independent Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate, a Hagel nod would offset it as far as "bipartisanship" is concerned. Hagel is well respected both in Nebraska and the Senate and would help Obama connect with rural Whites and Republicans who have soured on Iraq.

Former Vice President Al Gore could be an attractive option for Obama, although it's not certain whether Gore would be up for campaigning for anything other than the top job. Climate change and the environment are very important to him and he could have a greater impact on this from the White House than he could as a private citizen. Gore would please the Democratic base, but his appeal among Republicans would be limited. Independents who voted for Bush and regret having done so may be willing to give Gore a chance. The biggest problem with a Gore pick, however, is that he contradicts Obama's message of looking to the future. If Hillary Clinton is part of the past, wouldn't Al Gore be part of the past as well? It seems more likely that Gore would be an emergency consensus nominee (presidential, not vice presidential) in the event that chaos erupts at the party convention this summer and the superdelegates are deadlocked over Obama and Clinton. Gore's probably the most respected party elder who has yet to jump in the current food fight, but look for him to play some role in the process sometime in the future.

Hillary Clinton will not be on the bottom half of an Obama ticket. That was true when I first wrote about this in February and it's still true now. The fact is, she needs him far more than he needs her. If Clinton somehow became the nominee, she'd be obligated to tap him for veep or risk tearing the Democratic Party in half. Obama does not have this obligation to Clinton, however, even though it would be in his and the party's best interest to make some conciliatory gesture to her camp. This is what makes Wesley Clark the most obvious pick at present.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.