I must confess to being little short of astounded by the avalanche of press BS I'm reading on Barack Obama's position on Iraq.
The McCain camp seems to have a lot of reporters eating out of its hands since many journalists don't appear to grasp the basic distinction between strategy and tactics. I've even had normally sensible journalist colleagues forwarding me RNC press releases like they're passing on the revealed truth. McCain's campaign actually put out a statement claiming that Obama "has now adopted John McCain's position that we cannot risk the progress we have made in Iraq by beginning to withdraw our troops immediately without concern for conditions on the ground."
I've watched this campaign unfold pretty closely. And I've listened to Obama's position on Iraq. He's been very clear through this year and last on the distinction between strategy and tactics. Presidents set the strategy -- which in this context means the goal or the policy. And if the policy is a military one, a President will consult closely with his military advisors on the tactics used to execute the policy.
This is an elementary distinction the current occupant in the White House has continually tried to confuse by claiming that his policies are driven and constrained by the advice he's given by his commanders on the ground. There's nothing odd or contradictory about Obama saying that he'll change the policy to one of withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq with a specific timetable but that he will consult with his military advisors about how best to execute that policy.
For the McCain campaign to put out a memo to reporters claiming that Obama has adopted McCain's policy only shows that his advisors believe that a sizable percentage of the political press is made up of incorrigible morons. And it's hard to disagree with the judgment.
Jamison Foser compares how the press treated Kerry's military service to how they are treating McCain's:
Clark has made similar comments in the past, and various media figures said much the same thing about John Kerry in 2004. Morton Kondracke, for example: "It does not qualify you to be the commander in chief of all the Armed Forces because you were a Swift boat commander." And Kathleen Parker: "[M]ilitary service neither qualifies nor disqualifies one for political office." That same year, Bush campaign spokesperson Steve Schmidt -- now John McCain's de facto campaign manager -- dismissed the relevance of Kerry's military service, noting that it had occurred decades earlier.
Nobody much cared when people said John Kerry's military service didn't qualify him to be president. But the media have different rules when it comes to John McCain. And so Clark's comments were met with a firestorm of media criticism. Never mind that Clark hadn't criticized McCain's service; that he hadn't said McCain served poorly or dishonorably -- in fact, Clark called McCain a "hero." Never mind all that; the media quickly, relentlessly -- and falsely -- jumped all over Clark.
They falsely accused him of attacking McCain's military service. They falsely accused him of attacking McCain's patriotism. They went along with the McCain campaign's complaints that Clark -- who, again, called McCain a "hero" -- "didn't pay proper homage" to McCain. By the end of the week, one creative journalist went so far as to falsely claim that Clark's comments were part of a "pattern of attacks" on McCain as "psychologically unfit for presidential office." In short: they freaked out.
A few journalists felt compelled to acknowledge the obvious: that what Clark said was actually right -- that McCain's military service, like John Kerry's, is not sufficient qualification for the presidency no matter how honorable and heroic it was. But they still insisted Clark shouldn't have said it.
New York Times columnist Gail Collins, for example, wrote: "When Schieffer pointed out that Obama had neither run a squadron nor 'ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down,' the correct response was: 'No, and he honors Senator McCain's service.' ... Nevertheless, what Clark said was obviously true." Collins' Times colleague John Harwood agreed during an appearance on MSNBC: "[I]t was a misstep by Clark ... It was not a well-advised thing for Clark to do ... It actually was true."
When did journalists decide that the "obviously true" answer to a question is not the "correct" answer? When did they decide that it was appropriate to spend days excoriating someone for saying something that is "true" but isn't "well-advised?"
There's actually lots more unbelievable bullshit if you care to click on the link.
Incredibly, many in the media compared Clark's "obviously true" comments to the vicious smear campaign waged by the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against John Kerry. The comparisons began almost immediately. Just hours after Clark's appearance on Face the Nation, CNN host Rick Sanchez asked, "[D]id Wesley Clark pull a swift boat on John McCain today?" He later described Clark's comments as "A respected military leader dissing, some might say, swift-boating John McCain's military record." The absurd comparison quickly gained traction, particularly on cable news.
But wait: it gets worse. Not only did the media compare Clark to the noxious Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, many of them politely averted their eyes when McCain turned to a member of that group -- which McCain once called "dishonest and dishonorable" -- to respond to Clark's non-attack. The Washington Post, one of the media outlets that did note Bud Day's membership in the SBVT, quoted him rejecting the comparison between Clark and the anti-Kerry group -- because, he claimed, the comparison was unfair to the Swifties: "The Swift boat, quote, attacks were simply a revelation of the truth. The similarity doesn't exist. ... One was about laying out the truth. This one is about attempting to cast another shadow."
The Post didn't bother to tell readers that, in fact, the Swift Boat attacks were deeply dishonest and nasty smears.
In short: John McCain turned to a member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group whose false and despicable attacks on John Kerry's war record McCain once denounced, to attack Wesley Clark for comments in which Clark did not criticize McCain's war record -- and in which he, in fact, called McCain a hero. And the media went along with it.
Let's hope Krugman's right:
In the end, the Clark affair may have strengthened the Obama campaign. Last week, with his cave-in on wiretapping, Mr. Obama was showing disturbing signs of falling into the usual Democratic cringe on national security. This may have been the week he rediscovered the virtues of standing tall.
Edwards and Rove to debate
Abbreviated Pundit Round-Up