Who dares question the Supreme Allied Commander?


Never mind that he’s a tough and cool politician now.  Never mind that he looks like Captain Scarlet’s boss, Colonel White, Commander in Chief of Spectrum.  Gen. Wesley Clark was the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO.  Do you know what that means?  Well, neither do I, at least not exactly, but I do know that that’s about the greatest job title ever.  Most of the media morons piling on Wes Clark this week aren’t fit to shine even the tiniest bar on his chestful of medals.  But there they go, like good little lapdogs, chasing after a manufactured “controversy” that benefits the Republican presidential candidate.  When questioned by Bob Schieffer about John McCain’s qualifications for the presidency on Face the Nation Sunday, Clark made the sensible point that “I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”  (Here’s a good rundown of this week’s fauxtrage, h/t to Sarah at Corrente.)

Aside from proving that they’re so not over the huge crush they’ve had on John McCain since 1999, many in the media have also once again illustrated their utter ignorance of military service.  (These two things are interrelated.  Many people in the media, especially men, tend to be deferential of military service in the peculiar fashion of those who never served yet fetishize military experience.)  If Michele Norris had gone to a service academy instead of the University of Wisconsin, do you think she would have challenged Clark like this today on All Things Considered?

When you yourself were a candidate for president, you touted your own military service. And I seem to remember you saying that that was part of what made you a well-qualified candidate to sit in the Oval Office.

That’s right:  tragically unlucky Lieutenant Commander = Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO.  There’s no difference!  So, either military experience matters, or it doesn’t, yes or no, and the media is too lazy or stupid to ask useful questions or make evaluative judgments.  Apparently, the bad actors who ran Abu Ghraib have the same qualifications to run for president as Sergeant York.  I think I heard Clark’s eyeballs roll back in his head at this point in the interview, and yet he still answered Norris very patiently:

I did lead the armed force of NATO to a successful military action that saved a million and a half Albanians. I did make the recommendations on targeting. I did go to heads of state and ministers of defense and ministers of foreign affairs, the North Atlantic council, and helped hold NATO together. So I not only saw war at the bottom, but I saw war at the top.

Duh.  Can’t the media see that they’re being played like a fiddle?  The last thing McCain wants is for Wes Clark to be Barack Obama’s running mate, because McCain knows that Supreme Allied Commander beats unlucky Lieutenant Commander ever time, and Clark’s long and deep military credentials would give the Obama ticket a hell of a lot of gravitas.  This whole fracas was a masterful example of the bitch-slap theory of politics, designed to test Obama and, perhaps more importantly, to disqualify Clark as a Vice Presidential candidate.  And unfortunately, the media weren’t the only ones who fell for it this week.  (Confidential to B.O.:  Distancing yourself from the Supreme Allied Commander because the Republicans want you to makes you look weak.  You’re the one who got rolled, friend.)

UPDATE, 7/7/08:  Via TalkLeft, Digby notes that Clark is off of the Obama campaign.  Mission accomplished, indeed!  When will Democrats stop taking orders from Republicans?  When, my Lord, when?

0 thoughts on “Who dares question the Supreme Allied Commander?

  1. “Can’t the media see that they’re being played like a fiddle?”


    After spending way too many years trying to “educate” people who chose journalism, public relations, advertising and the other media industries as their majors, I feel confident in saying that the pool of talent in those professions is otnay ootay ightbray.

    There are many [and I repeat, MANY] exceptions to this, and my experience is indeed limited to anecdotes from peers and colleagues, but, well, it’s just a few hundred footnotes for the case file we’re all compiling.

    Plus, we must also factor into this mess the impact of our media overlords. Especially that certain Aussie who managed to get granted American citizenship just to buy into the media megaconglomeration circus [and in the process re-write US Law]. Never count out a good [Chomskian] media conspiracy when it’s appropriate.


  2. Yes, the corporate, for-profit media is at the root of the problem. I’m sure NPR only went for the story because it was being pushed by the gasbags at the cable networks, but they still went for it, with embarassing results.

    It’s interesting to hear your thoughts that the problem may begin with the talent pool. I think Norris is smart–I just don’t get why she ends up pushing these memes pushed by the cable networks.


  3. this was the funniest critique of this madness I have read. I was actually horrified when I heard the news that someone had disparaged McCain’s service, b/c he fought in yet another war we should not have been in and was a POW. Despite listening to the entire hour, it wasn’t until after I got home to look up what was actually said that I found out the whole thing was fabricated. Being shot down does not qualify you for president anymore than knowing the difference between Sunni and Shiite (oh wait, McCain does not know that) . . .

    thanks for jump starting my day with a laugh. 😀


  4. The jokes just write themselves, don’t they? Hilarious, and sad; and only Obama gets tarnished.

    On the “bitch slap theory” (thanks for the link, that too is hilarious and sad) — and I’m thinking on my feet here — but it seems like there is this hyper-masculine language and expectations for strength that are being used to smear anyone who does not engage in this sort of John Wayne-type, militaristic discourse. H. Clinton’s “3 a.m.” ad attempted to counter that with another definition of “strength” based in feminine myths of motherhood (and we saw how that played out). We see it also in the charges of elitism and its connotations of effetery (is that a word?) leveled at Obama.

    Somewhere — in a longer post by a person better versed in this than I — there seems to be an assuption that the only correct definition of “leader” and specifically “American leader” is one that is masculine, militaristic, and working class (not to mention lily white). The entire political campaign propaganda is built on it.

    Anyway, thanks for the laugh! Posts like this are better than coffee in the morning.


  5. Yes, Clio B.–I’m not so sure about the “working class” part of your modal male leader, but otherwise that sounds right to me. (True working class Dem presidents like Bill Clinton aren’t deferred to by the corporate media the way that heirs to big names and fortunes are–Roosevelt and Kennedy, for example.) LBJ is a good model of a working-class President, although look what fear of not looking tough enough did to him and to the nation!

    Still, BO has got to stop flinching in the ring and land a few punches himself. He needs to take on this idea that McCain’s experience as a torture victim sanctifies him for higher office. Clark has it right: it may be evidence of character and courage, but it’s not executive experience that applies to the presidency. BO should take a page out of George W. Bush’s book, and show some loyalty to his allies and surrogates. One of the things I think Bill Clinton was too eager to do was to cut loose surrogates and allies who caught flack for saying reasonable things (Lani Guenier, Jocelyn Elders, etc.) I’ve come (perversely) to admire GWB’s tendency to dance with the ones that brung him. Sometimes it makes him look like an idiot (“Brownie,” for example), but mostly it makes him look like he’s refusing to be pushed around. And BO is allowing himself to be pushed around too much.


  6. I don’t think the working class portion of my description — or any of it, actually — corresponds to actual, lived experience. Rather, that aspect is — like the rest of the description — a performance or an image to be projected. Heavens knows that W. is decidedly NOT working class, yet he puts on an Oscar-winning “good ole boy” performance.

    That willingness to cut loose allies in the Democratic party ticks me off, too. One thing that I loved about that famed Obama speech in Philadelphia was that he did not disown Wright. Things have obviously changed since then, and he seems willing to do as the Clintons did: cut loose anyone who attracts a slightest bit of controversy or criticism from the opposing party, no matter how many people on his own side might actually agree with the allegedly controversial idea. With the Clintons, they always made me think that they were willing to appease the Republicans more than their own consituency. I mean, heck, aren’t the Democrats (when they are out of office) supposed to be the party of opposition? I expect them to do some opposing, darn it!


  7. Your post and The Myth’s comment remind us that the media usually takes the easy way out — the headline-grabbing, sensationalistic angle. Rather than consider the substance (what type of experience qualifies someone for executive office?), the story becomes about Clark supposedly questioning the importance of military service. The bigger question is how the huge role of the military-industrial-think tank- complex has influence in US society and internatoinal conflicts and how the huge economic investment in matters military (including outsourcing of war) gets overlooked in the campaign coverage of silliness — e.g. Kerry’s Vietnam service and even W.’s AWOL, although the latter didn’t stick as a story.


  8. The W. AWOL thing didn’t NOT stick as a story, either, though. CBS just tanked on pursuing it when the pressure was on, and then they hung Dan Rather out to dry. We know the guy was campaigning with Gen’l Blount in Albama when he was supposed to be over in Texas.

    On the broader Clark flap, resume doesn’t end up telling you a whole lot, I think, either way. Eisenhower was supreme commander in Europe too, and Kennedy was a small boat jockey in the Pacific, but they both made a series of sequential decisions trending in the same overall direction that led straight into the Big Muddy. One senses in the flap a certain amount of Army versus Navy guy, Rhodes Scholar versus academic dullard, soldier who didn’t get much political traction in civilian life versus one who did, and it ends up being a distraction. As for saving the Kosovars, one would like to know where he was in the first Clinton term when more could and should have been done to prevent them from being in that kind of jeopardy in 1999, and the evidence is pretty murky here. When that red phone rings at 3 a.m. in a year or two, I STILL know who I’d like to see picking it up, I know that!


  9. Clio B.–thanks for the clarification. Ironically, Hillary Clinton has shown herself to be loyal to a fault–she kept that Clown College of political advisors on board way too long, unfortunately! Bill Clinton is the one who jettisoned his allies and surrogates too precipitously. (But, Historiann warned you all about the the parallels between Obama and Bill Clinton more than 2 months ago! See here to behold my skills as a futuriann too!)

    Indyanna–good points about the incipient rivalry between Clark and McCain. However, I think Clark made some really good points–but as Rad says, the media looks for conflict, and if they can’t find it, they can always make it up…


  10. So much of this “controversy” does seem to be cooked by the media, but I can’t help but return to Historiann’s point about why they never seem to direct these “gaffes” at McCain. Why does he always get a free pass to say whatever he wants, no matter how factually wrong or incendiary, and everything Obama or his surrogates says is targeted? The same was true of HRC while she was in the race, so it goes beyond some fascination with the current Dem nominee.

    Any thoughts? Because if this current pattern holds, Obama will be wearing more flag pins and giving off-topic speeches in the future, while McCain will continue to sail through any media scrutiny. Doesn’t bode well.

    (Just wanted to add a quick hey to Indyanna!)


  11. Christ on a cracker, ej, I don’t know, although I’m partial to Clio B’s analysis. I think it has a lot to do with our lame press corps falling for the phony masculinity of “tough guys” like Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and perhaps now McCain. Dem policies appear to embody “feminine” values like caring (Medicare and Medicaid) and sharing (Social Security, progressive taxation), whereas Republican policies and programs embody more “masculine” values like independence, initiative, and bellicose confrontation in foreign policy.

    This is why BO needs to come out swinging. He’s going to be easily painted as an effete elitist if he doesn’t. I don’t like it that American politics is played out with these primitive (not to mention essentially misogynistic and frequently racist) symbols, but I want BO to win. Whatever happened to liberal tough guys? Like Fratguy said to me the other day: “What we need is another LBJ, and with this guy (BO) I’m afraid we’re getting another Jimmy Carter.”


  12. It’s not just the personnel, though. Remember that any worker must work within the social context of the workplace. Drink the Kool-Aid and “succeed.”

    Don’t drink, and you get relegated to obscurity.

    And we might wanna consider how far askance NPR is from “mainstream” media…

    Now *there* is a research project worth doing!

    Unless my neurons are misfiring, I vaguely recall someone actually doing something like that recently…


  13. Good points, The_Myth. NPR seems very much inside the mainstream, from what I’ve heard all through the Bush years!

    (And p.s. to the banned commenter: you’re still banned! Nice try though–you must be using a different computer, so your comment slipped through. You are not welcome here, so please just go away.)


  14. A few thoughts…

    Obama was at his best a few weeks ago when he was going after McCain on policy positions that matter. It seems to have helped him in the polls. He sounded firm while making the case for change. This more recent stuff…well, I haven’t read his speeches yet, but when you’re proving your patriotism you seem to be using the Republican standards for validation. (That said, he is also trying to avoid getting swiftboated with anti-patriotic smears…but I don’t know if he’s coming out hard enough against those attacks)

    I respect McCain’s getting into a plane repeatedly not knowing if he was going to make it back to his ship. Wesley Clark should have been smart enough not to phrase it so bluntly. HOWEVER the veneration of military service in this country has reached levels not seen in a modern industrialized country since 1920s Germany. I listened to the NPR interview live and was shocked by the questioning. The idea that military service, particularly combat action, makes you more of a man, more of a citizen, more qualified for leadership is Fascist. It is disappointing to hear so many go along with that reasoning.


  15. Geoff–I agree with your analysis of what’s worked better for Obama, and what hasn’t worked so well. He needs to stop playing defense, and as you say, using into right-wing frames for reading him. And–it’s interesting to hear your comments on military service and fascism, since you’re much more of an expert on the topic than I am.

    I’m glad to hear that I wasn’t the only one screaming into my radio tuned to Nice Polite Republicans Tuesday night!


  16. I just couldn’t stay out of this one.

    Well, as far as I’m concerned, the only thing Wesley Clark was wrong about was the part about a fighter plane.

    “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.”

    That was great, and he’s stuck with it, good for him. But he should have said, “attack bomber.”

    McCain flew A-4 Skyhawks, which do not engage in mano a mano combat like the connotation “fighter plane” suggests. McCain was bombing targets on the ground. Look, obviously no less dangerous. However, check out his horrible flight record. Clearly, any other pilot, not the son of a powerful Admiral, would have been discharged with a record like that. But that’s not the point. The McCain myth is that of the maverick in the sky, a modern day knight, fighting a chivalrous battle. When in all likelihood some of his bombs probably killed civilians.

    Clark could be even more effective if he starts making the case even stronger, that democratic societies rely on the military only as an absolute last resort and we certainly don’t need any trigger happy war mongers with their finger on the button. Clark should keep making his case. They “swift boated” Kerry but they can’t swift boat the Supreme Allied Commander. Or can they? McCain is a joke, but a very dangerous joke.

    Obama, stop throwing strong liberals under the bus and go back to tying the war in Iraq to the failing economy. The MSM could be rendered powerless this year if he just stopped playing into those false narratives. But alas, Obama never was a liberal.


  17. Stuart–thanks for the new information about fighter planes versus bombers. I didn’t know that. McCain graduated near the bottom of his class at Annapolis, so perhaps it’s not surprising that he wasn’t the best pilot ever.

    I think your analysis of and advice to Obama is right on. It’s not 1992 any more–if he were a real progressive, he could come out swinging if he wanted to. “But alas,” as you say…


  18. I just wanted to say thanks for the original post and all of the responses. I’ve been sitting here uselessly yelling at my TV every time they rehash this ridiculous charge against Wesley Clark, who was simply stating the truth, and stating that only in response to a pointed and specific question! Give me a break. Now if we could just get Obama’s people to read and implement some of these suggestions for how to run a winning campaign!


  19. Hi Kathie! Someone once said very perceptively of Obama that he has great political gifts but nowhere near the same level of political skills. He’s had a bad couple of weeks, but it’s best to get them out of the way before the conventions, though.

    I wish his campaign would get away from these stagey set-pieces for big speeches in front of pre-selected audiences. (Sound familiar to anyone?) He needs to get out and talk to people and hear what they have to say, and stop it with the speeches already.


  20. Yes, Historiann, thanks for the fabulous post. Along the lines of media bimbo-ness, I’d like to bring up today’s news story about Rene Marie’s being skewered by the press for changing up the national anthem to reflect, heaven forbid, the black experience of this country. I saw the report on CNN today while eating lunch. Lots of airtime to Tancredo, and then the two anchors (both women) practically tsk-tsk-ing, making clear that she had “very little support.” Any clue from others as to why this is such an affront? For an excellent commentary on the national anthem, check out one of Laurie Anderson’s Personal Service announcements: http://youtube.com/watch?v=9cE6Pg2q3lI.


  21. Yes, it’s sure getting a lot of play here in Denver, and unfortunately, the media don’t have any wars, economic uphevals, or anything more important to report on. (That would take actual reporting and news-gathering! Let’s just ask politicians what they think of the outrage du jour!)

    Happy 4th–hope you can enjoy some time off and a day to yourself.


  22. Ah, yes. Seems all too familiar. Clark’s comments should be defended and elaborated by Obama not dismissed. Is there anyone in the Obama’s campaign leadership who reads Machiavelli and knows how to put the principles into action? Fight back! Don’t run away! Does anyone know what the hell they’re doing with respect to mass media in the inner circle? This is a struggle for ultimate power. WAKE UP!!

    Here we go again — I can see it now — swiftboating version 2008. Death by a thousand small cuts. Each attack will shift a few more key centrist and ex-Hillary voters towards McCain. There will be more and more of these attacks. Can’t anyone figure out an effective counter strategy? Judas Priest!


  23. Hi Steve–thanks for stopping by and commenting. It was the vile Bill Clinton who once said something like, “the people would rather follow someone who’s strong and wrong, than someone who’s right but looks weak.” What the hell did he know, anyway? (Except for being the only two-term Democratic President since FDR?)

    You have to hand it to Republicans–they’re fiercely loyal, and they will take it to their opponents. If one of Bush’s surrogates had suggested that baby-eating was a reasonable solution to the global hunger crisis and was subsequently called out for it, other Bush surrogates would have taken to the airwaves to loudly complain about people who were soft on babies, and to insist that baby-eating was not only defensible, but principled. Ridiculous, but people would start nodding their heads and think, “well, maybe we should try baby-eating…”


  24. Pingback: POWs in the eighteenth century : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

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