"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," said Clark, a former NATO commander who campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.
"He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not," Clark said.
So far, so good -- although I'm not sure that "qualifications" is the right frame for this. Generally, we hold being a US Senator to be a solid qualification for the Presidency. Clark's prior explanation for what he means -- that McCain is hinging his campaign on his unique background as a leader who's "been there" is better, and I guess qualifcations is a pithy way of talking about that. This is also is how he avoids that "Obama doesn't have it either" charge: Obama, Clark notes, isn't basing his campaign on his long background as a Washington leader. Obama's running a campaign based on his judgment and ideas.
But I digress.
[CBS' Bob] Schieffer noted that Obama did not have any of those experiences, nor had he "ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down."
"Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," Clark said.
In a statement released by the McCain campaign Sunday afternoon, retired Admiral Leighton "Snuffy" Smith criticized Clark's comment.
"If Barack Obama wants to question John McCain's service to his country, he should have the guts to do it himself and not hide behind his campaign surrogates," Smith said.
"If he expects the American people to believe his pledges about a new kind of politics, Barack Obama has a responsibility to condemn these attacks."
Look. 1) Clark is totally right here. McCain's service was absolutely, 100% honorable. He showed bravery and courage in an unimaginably difficult and harrowing situation. That is not the same thing as a presidential qualification -- particularly, again, under the lens Clark is talking about: the question of having executive responsibility. 2) This was self-evidently not a "questioning", much less an "attack", on "John McCain's service to his country." That's just a bullshit rendition of Clark's claim. Getting shotdown in Vietnam shows many things about a man, but it does not automatically qualify one for the Presidency. If that's now anti-veteran, there's no way to avoid it.
And I can't do electoral politics, because I can't handle the sort of mealy-mouthedness that might turn this into an actual story framed around "Obama surrogate attacks McCain."