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On the Trail / WESLEY CLARK ON JOHN McCAIN

Comment takes on a life of its own

July 02, 2008|Peter Nicholas

A war lingers in Iraq; the economy falters at home. But since Sunday, the 2008 presidential race seems to have been consumed by what a retired general said on a television talk show.

Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" and questioned whether famed war hero John McCain had the executive experience to be commander in chief.

Worse, by the reckoning of the McCain campaign, Clark didn't pay proper homage to McCain's greatest sacrifice: 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

When host Bob Schieffer countered that Barack Obama, unlike McCain, had never been shot down in a fighter plane, Clark replied: "Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."

The two campaigns batted that around the next day. And on Tuesday, it was clear that the issue was still with us.

At a news conference in Ohio, Obama was asked why he hadn't spoken to Clark about the matter.

A bit wearily, Obama replied that there was not enough time in the day.

"My question is why, given all the vast numbers of things we have to work on, that would be a top priority of mine," Obama said. He termed Clark's comment "inartful," which sounded something like an apology.

Clark isn't even a member of Obama's campaign. He backed Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination and traveled with her campaign until she dropped out of the race last month.

Republicans sent e-mails to reporters suggesting new avenues of inquiry: Did Obama mislead the public when he said at Tuesday's news conference that the patriotism speech he gave the day before was not a response to the Clark dust-up?

If you care deeply about these matters, rest assured there's more to come.

-- Peter Nicholas

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