Was Obama Too Swift in Rejecting General Wesley Clark’s Salvo on McCain?

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General Wesley Clark’s dig at John McCain’s military experience is a fair criticism. This is a presidential campaign, where all matters of a candidate’s past are fair game, and the transfer or acquisition of power is predictably revealing and unpleasant. And in this case, when one considers the source, Clark is certainly credible to speak on the matter.

General Clark raises valid critiques of the presumptive Republican nominee’s leadership resume. Does experience on the line in a manufacturing plant qualify someone to be the C.E.O. of the company? Not traditionally, and it depends on who that someone is. Special people usually navigate through traditional barriers. Obama definitely, and to a lesser extent McCain, can make the argument for being non-traditional in there approach to politics.

Senator Obama could have chosen not to distance himself so swiftly from Clark’s comments. Yet in spite of the immediate spin put on the issue by both campaigns, Clark’s thoughts merit discussion and consideration from the American public because they are true, when kept in context.

Senator John McCain has never made executive level decisions. His experience, intellect, and judgment are fair fodder in vetting someone for the presidency. We should honor his sacrifice as a Prisoner of War, in what was an unpopular war. However, should that experience in the military entitle someone to be president?

While General Clark’s criticisms do not even come close to the demagoguery of the Republican “Swift Boat” attacks on John Kerry in 2004, it does bring up a valid point. Because if it was fair game for Republicans to criticize John Kerry’s war record, his Purple Heart medals and then attack him with Swift Boat ads just four years ago, then it is certainly fair for General Clark to offer criticisms as a military colleague of John McCain now.

As president, Senator Obama will have an attentive ear, and value the opinions of military leaders like General Clark and other experts in national security. The dismissal of Clark’s statement is unfortunate because the discussion should remain on John McCain’s void in real executive experience.

General Wesley Clark has served our country dutifully and with honor for many years – he is entitled to his opinion. As a four-star General, he has earned a voice on matter.

Al Austin is a political professional and delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention. He has previously served as a top aide to State Senator Kevin Murray.

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