Just when it looked like the Obama campaign would be the first Democrats to challenge Republicans on the patriotism issue, they turn around today and disavow Wesley Clark’s criticism of John McCain. “As he’s said many times before, Senator Obama honors and respects Senator McCain’s service, and of course he rejects yesterday’s statement by General Clark,” said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton.
During his speech today in Independence, Missouri, Obama himself sought some distance from Clark. “For those who have fought under the flag of this nation – for the young veterans I meet when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country – no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides. We must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform. Period. Full stop,” Obama said.
What is most disappointing is how quickly the Obama campaign accepted McCain’s meaning of Clark’s comment. Here is what Clark said, “I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.” In my mind, Clark was stating a fact. Just as being the first African American major party nominee does not make Obama better qualified than McCain, the Republican is not better qualified because of his Vietnam experiences.
I supported the Barack Obama we saw in the primaries, but his campaign is starting to play it safe. In the last week or so, we have seen him support the FISA bill, and now refuse to challenge the shameless flag waving of the GOP. The sad thing is that Obama gave a good speech today on positive meaning of patriotism, but he is unwilling to challenge McCain’s own experience. It is clear that they are afraid of the same things John Kerry was in 2004.
The campaign is afraid of being painted as unpatriotic and liberal, but instead of fighting against this kind of politics, the Obama campaign has chosen to back down. In my mind this isn’t a new kind of politics, but the same old Democratic fear of the patriotism label. If Obama is really interested in change then his campaign needs to do what Clark did, and challenge the reasoning behind the politics of patriotism, not embrace the GOP logic.