The Livid Left and McCain’s War Experience

Liberal bloggers, and their commenters,  are disappointed at Barack Obama's campaign for distancing themselves from Wesley Clark's comments. TPM's Greg Sargent writes that "by condemning Clark's line of argument, the Obama camp is strengthening the McCain camp's ability to suggest that his POW bio does make him more qualified to be president than Obama is."    In comments,  one person claiming  do be a dissillusioned longtime Obama volunteer from San Francisco wrote a note to Obama wondering, "What in hell has happened to your campaign?" Matt Yglesias accuses the campaign of lameness.

The DailyKos commenters, as usual, are in a class by themselves. Commenter Agnostic praises Clark, saying, "finally, the right message, with the right messenger. Sitting in prison for years is NOT leadership training."  

JeffW followed up: "Not unless McTurd had led multiple attempts to escape, with some successes."

THEpersonal ISpolitical reminded everybody, "not to mention he crashed FIVE TIMES"

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McCain-Romney Watch

Mike Allen reports that Mitt Romney tops the VP list, but I just don’t see McCain pulling the trigger on this. Romney never sealed the deal with conservatives, did poorly in the South, and left the race with a net negative rating of 12 points (by contrast, the “polarizing” Hillary Clinton‘s rating is positive 10 points). If Romney’s flip flopping didn’t fly with Republicans who he was catering to in the primaries, how would it be okay with the public at large? Think of all the ads Democrats could run purely on clips of Romney attacking McCain, especially for not understanding the economy. And talk about a sure way to undermine the “Straight Talk” theme. Romney brings all of this baggage, and by all indications McCain dislikes him personally. I don’t see how this could happen.

Re: McCain and Swift Boaters

While there will be a temptation in the media to compare the attacks on McCain’s military service to those of the Swift Boaters, there’s absolutely no equivalence here.

John Kerry tried to run on his war record, even though after serving in Vietnam for a few months he came back and testified against his fellow soldiers and accused them of war crimes.

John McCain served as a POW and initially refused to make such statements under torture. Only after McCain was severally beaten within an inch of his life, and he failed several times to commit suicide, did he agree to make any such statements to the North Vietnamese, and he expressed shame about it.

As recounted below, when he got back from Vietnam, instead of publicly smearing those he served with to launch his political career, McCain went through grueling physical therapy so he could learn to fly again and continue to serve his country.

As Jim notes, any attempt by the left to go after McCain’s war record will blow up in their faces, big time.

McCain’s Veterans For Truth

The McCain campaign launched a full-throated response to Wesley Clark’s comments attacking McCain’s military service, with a conference call unveiling a “Truth Squad” featuring fellow POWs Orson Swindle and Bud Day, Sen. John Warner, advisor Bud McFarland, and Carl Smith, a retired Navy pilot who served in the Navy squadron that McCain commanded.

Sen. Warner said he was “utterly shocked” that Clark would attack McCain in such a disrespectful manner, and it was an “exercise in poor judgment” for Obama to allow Clark to make such an attack.

Day noted how McCain could have went home early from Vietnam because he was onboard the U.S.S. Forrestal during a tragic fire on deck (video here, McCain was one of the pilots who had to escape from his plane during the inferno). Instead, he volunteered to join another ship and fly combat missions over downtown Hanoi, which was the most heavily defended city in the world, and spent 65 additional months in Vietnam, as a POW, as a result. His experiences inside that camp, including the fact that he refused offers of early release, made him a leader, Day said.

Day attributed Clark’s “shocking insults” to “political shenanigans.”

Smith spoke of serving with McCain during the time when he turned a large, mediocre, and “clumsy” Navy squadron into a unit that earned a citation for meritorious service.

“The credit goes to John McCain and his extraordinary leadership, it’s as simple as this,” Smith said. He said that when McCain came there, he fired all of the people who said that there was no way they could do better, and demanded more.

“The results were truly exceptional,” he said.

Israel’s Bad Deal

The Israeli government has agreed to release a brutal Hezbollah killer for the dead bodies of the two IDF soldiers that were kidnapped in 2006, providing the inciting incident for the Lebanon War. In one sense, this demonstrates the emphasis the Israelis place on the sanctity of human life, or in this case, the honor of the dead. But whatever the emotional reasons are for negotiating the swap, it’s a deal that puts more Israeli lives at risk. Already, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar has declared that the deal with Hezbollah will raise the price (in terms of Hamas terrorist prisoners) it will demand from Israel for the evidently living Gilad Schalit. In the future, this will encourage terrorist groups from kidnapping Israeli soldiers, and give them less reason to keep them alive. It’s another example of the incompetence of the Olmert government.

Over at Contentions, Eric Trager wonders whether Olmert is the worst politician ever, and Emanuele Ottolenghi notes that if the captured Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser are in fact dead, it raises a number of “troublesome questions,” including:

When did the government know that the two soldiers were in all likelihood dead? Was it immediately after Hezbollah’s incursion into Israeli territory, on July 12, 2006? If so, the government launched a military campaign of 33 days, that cost the lives of over 130 Israelis, in order to rescue the dead bodies of two. Some explaining is in order, if that is the case.

Obama Passes Clark’s Military Test, But Not McCain

For the at least the third time that I can remember, Wesley Clark has launched a scurrilous attack on John McCain’s military experience, this time on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Here’s how it went down:

“He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn’t held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn’t a wartime squadron,” Clark said.

“I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.”

Even if you get past the snide nature of Clark’s statements and try to give it as charitable a reading as possible, his arguments don’t hold up to much scrutiny.

The leadership attributes that McCain showed in commanding the Naval squadron were absolutely remarkable, all the more so because he achieved them after being released from five and a half years of captivity with severe injuries, after which most men would have put an end to their military careers.

Our own R. Emmett Tyrrell explained the episode in a recent column

In a 2000 feature story for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof also offered details on this stage of McCain’s career:

Mr. McCain was no great shakes to look at himself. He was still troubled by two broken arms, a broken leg, a shattered knee and bayonet wounds. Few thought that he could ever fly again, but he was desperate to try.

So he signed up for an excruciating therapy. Twice a week, for two hours at a time, he would lie in a whirlpool bath with water as hot as he could stand, and then the physical therapist (he called her his physical terrorist) would force his knee to bend.

”In physical therapy, you measure pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being maximum, off the wall,” recalled the therapist, Diane Lawrence. ”Many times we got close to 10, and he would just put a hand over his face, and say, ‘Honey, that’s it.’ And we would stop for a while.”

Obsessed with his dream of flying again, Mr. McCain embraced the pain and never missed a therapy session, and never was late, Mrs. Lawrence said….

Mr. McCain won a coveted assignment as commanding officer of the Navy’s largest squadron, the Replacement Air Group in Jacksonville, Fla. This was Mr. McCain’s first chance to command men (and a few women), but the squadron had a mediocre record and parts shortages meant that only half the planes were flyable at any time.

”Inertia had set in,” recalled Carl Smith, then an instructor pilot in the squadron. ”We had some crusty old guys running maintenance, and they were masters at saying, ‘no, no, no.’ But then McCain came in and changed them overnight and brought in new people.”…

Officers recall that he would hurtle into the maintenance shops and start kidding the officers, peppering them with rapid-fire questions and jokes, urging them, scolding them and leaving them fired up. Mr. McCain learned the names of all the enlisted men so that he could tease them as vociferously as the officers, a mild breach of protocol that won their hearts.

They responded, and by the time he left the squadron in 1977, every single aircraft had left the disabled list — the last one, which had been out for two years, was restored on his next-to-last day.

Although plagued by fatal accidents in the past, the squadron had no fatalities under his command (a turkey buzzard that shattered the windshield of a student pilot’s plane almost changed that, but officers talked the pilot down safely), and won its first meritorious unit citation. Mr. McCain’s success attracted notice among the admirals in Washington.

Okay, so Clark has this ridiculously high threshold for what would qualify somebody as commander in chief that McCain doesn’t make the cut, and yet he’s endorsing Barack Obama to be president because of what? The military experience he gained as editor of the Harvard Law Review? The wartime executive skills he honed when he was trying to get asbestos removed from buildings as a community organizer?

McCain and Gas Prices

Liberal bloggers think that John McCain has been ensnared in an out of touch moment akin to the elder Bush not knowing the cost of a loaf of bread.

Here was McCain in an exchange with the Orange County Register:

(Q): When was the last time you pumped your own gas and how much did it cost?

MCCAIN: Oh, I don’t remember. Now there’s Secret Service protection. But I’ve done it for many, many years. I don’t recall and frankly, I don’t see how it matters.

The Huffington Post said McCain “stepped in it” and Think Progress declared that it represented his “cluelessness about gas prices.”

Nice try.

Any fair reading of the question makes clear that it was in reference to price of gas the last time he pumped his own gas, and really, do we now expect presidential candidates with Secret Service protection to pump their own gas regularly so they can answer such gotcha questions from reporters?

Meanwhile, Patterico notes that six days before the interview, McCain gave a speech in which he said, “The price of a gallon of gas in America stands at more than four dollars.”

So McCain obviously knows the price of gas. If he can be accused of anything, it’s not having more patience with a pointless question.

The Lead Paint Candidate

Ralph Nader is being interviewed on “This Week” and he’s attacking Obama for not taking stronger action against lead paint in inner cities. Somehow I don’t think the Obama camp sees him as a big threat.

Obama Set To Flip Flop on Health Care Mandate?

One of the few actual policy disagreements between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the primary season arose because Clinton’s health care plan included a mandate requiring individuals purchase health care, and Obama’s did not. Obama argued emphatically against a mandate in many debates, saying that the problem wasn’t that people didn’t want to get health insurance, the problem was that they couldn’t afford it — and said, rightly, that a mandate would impose onerous fines on working people who failed to purchase insurance.

But we now ABC reports that he may not be opposed to mandates after all:

“Senator Obama is willing to consider any sort of proposal that would bring together, not just the insurance industry but . . . the consumers themselves,” said Obama adviser Dr. Kavita Patel….

Asked if Obama would be seen as reversing himself if he were to endorse an individual mandate after clashing with Clinton on the issue, Patel dismissed the concern.

“He has not said he is opposed to it,” Patel told ABC News. “He has voiced his disagreement with having that be a part of his health-care plan last year. But he is not opposed to the idea itself.” Patel added that the Obama campaign is in touch with former Clinton health-care advisers.

Of course, the Obama campaign pushed back on the story, with its trademark slipperiness:

“Senator Obama does not have plans to change his health care plan, which will achieve universal coverage,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton tells ABC News. “As he has consistently said throughout this campaign, he will bring together businesses, the medical community and members of both parties around a comprehensive solution to this issue.”

So which is it?

Actually, if Obama is elected, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see an individual mandate become part of his health care proposal. There’s a simple reason why, which I explore at greater length in my health care story for our July/August print edition.

Obama’s plan, as currently structured, imposes a “guaranteed issue” requirement on insurers, meaning that they have to provide coverage to anybody who applies for a policy, regardless of risk factors or preexisting conditions. But what this does is drive up the cost of insurance for everybody else, and healthy people bolt the market. After all, if insurers are required to cover somebody no matter what, a healthy person can save money on monthly premiums by simply waiting until after he gets sick to purchase insurance. In every state where this has been tried, it has been an absolute disaster. In my article, I note that when this regulation was passed in Kentucky in the 1990s, it caused a mass exodus of more than 60 insurers from the state, and Kentucky was left with just one private insurer in the individual market. This is why many liberal academics support a mandate requiring the purchase of insurance as a way to keep healthy individuals within the risk pool, so that insurers don’t get stuck with only the sick. A mandate, of course, hasn’t worked very well in Massachusetts.