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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Wesley Clark is the New Geraldine Ferraro

posted by on July 1 at 10:50 AM

Let’s see, where have we seen this strategy before?

One candidate’s surrogate makes an indelicate remark about another candidate on a subject that’s super touchy to a large group of Americans. Said surrogate is chastised by his superior. Offended candidate takes the high road by getting only mildly miffed in public, but his surrogates get into high dudgeon.

Then, instead of apologizing, the surrogate who did the original offending says: “Wait a minute, those offending remarks were taken out of context and misconstrued!” And then uses the opportunity to make a similar criticism in a slightly more subtle way, while also claiming not to be backing down, thus keeping the debate alive.

Sound like anyone you know? Sounds to me like the strategy Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton used when Ferraro made those remarks about how Barack Obama would never be where he is if he wasn’t black, and definitely wouldn’t be where he is if he was a woman.

Here’s the strategy: You have a point to make. Say, that Barack Obama is coasting on the novelty of his blackness. Or, say, that John McCain’s wartime service is not, per se, an automatic qualification to be president. It’s delicate because making this point has the potential to piss off every black person in the country, in the Obama case, or every veteran in the country, in the McCain case. But the upside to winning these arguments is huge. Let’s take just the McCain case because it’s current: If you win, you kick a huge part of McCain’s rationale for being president out from beneath him.

So your surrogate makes the point, takes the heat, restates the point, takes more heat, restates again, takes maybe a little less heat because now people understand what’s being said, and eventually it becomes an acceptable argument.

At least that’s the idea. It didn’t work for Ferraro because both her point, and the way she went about making and restating it, were outlandish. But so far it seems to be working for Wesley Clark. He’s not backing down, and the debate about whether McCain’s service is an automatic qualification for being president is now in its second day.

So just to be clear: Wesley Clark isn’t trying to Swift Boat John McCain. That’s so 2004. He’s trying to Ferraro John McCain. And so far he’s proving to be more skilled at it than Ferraro ever was.

RSS icon Comments


i hate politics so much right now.

scratch that - i hate politics so much just in general.

Posted by dbell | July 1, 2008 10:59 AM

sorry, off-topic - they have a standoff downtown with a bank robber. sounds like shots have been fired. 2nd and spring, or so.

Posted by Linsey | July 1, 2008 10:59 AM

In contrast to Ferraro's remarks, what Wesley Clark is saying is actually true. Being shot down/serving in the military doesn't make a person automatically qualified for the presidency.

Posted by In MN | July 1, 2008 11:01 AM

Yes, but by doing this, Clark magnifies the fact that Obama hasn't served in the military. And the media is making this point loud & clear. We all know how many "low information" voters there are.

Posted by Tony | July 1, 2008 11:03 AM

Eli, do you have a shred of evidence to support this conspiracy theory?

Posted by elenchos | July 1, 2008 11:08 AM

You forgot to say how much of a "slam!!!!" this was. And no links to Sullivan or Ben Smith?

Posted by hairyson | July 1, 2008 11:15 AM

my freshman year on the basketball team i broke my leg in training and ended up on the disabled list for the remainder of my college career.

and that is why i know everything about sports and should be elected as the university's athletic director.

Posted by chops | July 1, 2008 11:16 AM

It's not a Swift Boat attack until a 527 gets involved, FWIW.

And it would be funny if chops pulled down the big bucks the UW's athletic director makes ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 1, 2008 11:18 AM

With every passing day I'm starting to miss Hillary more and more.

Posted by Vince | July 1, 2008 11:22 AM

Before you go drawing conclusions about Clark/Obama, since when did it become an established fact that Ferraro's comments were all part of a diabolical plot hatched by the evil mastermind Clinton?

(I mean, I know a few people said that at the time, but I thought those people would look back on that now and realize how stupid they sounded.)

Posted by David | July 1, 2008 11:24 AM

In 2004, challenging John Kerry's military service in Vietnam didn't do anything to highlight George W. Bush's lack of it. I think Mr. Sanders has a point, though I am always skeptical about giving politicians credit for being hyper-savvy. I actually think Gen. Clark said what he did because Bob Schiffer planted the seed with his question. However, the fact that Clark isn't backing down is a good thing. It allows Clark (and organizations like to discuss the unmentionable -- was McCain's POW experience a good thing for a president? -- while Obama himself can praise McCain's service to no end. People tend to drift towards the controversy rather than the boosting. And I still think Wesley Clark is sexy.

Posted by Bub | July 1, 2008 11:27 AM

It's so cute to see you pretend you know what candidates should, shouldn't, and aughtta do.

Posted by Non | July 1, 2008 11:29 AM

Bub, I'll have to agree that Wes is sexy.

Posted by Tony | July 1, 2008 11:37 AM

wesley clark isnt backing down cuz he led infantary troops as a captain in the Nam, saw plenty of fire fights and he got shot 4 times and didnt get himself caught. he also led nato troops in the kosovo and the balkans.

dems love to kiss the ass of republicans who served, but always allow dems who served with wayyyyyyy more balls to be dissed.

i like to hear senator obama praise clark for his service as well.

Posted by SeMe | July 1, 2008 11:57 AM

If being tortured automatically qualified somebody to be president, we could go to gitmo and find a whole bunch of people who were "qualified" to run things.

Posted by Clint | July 1, 2008 11:59 AM

Clark needs to shut the fuck up and do it NOW.

Nobody cares what he thinks. Obama needs to control his own message.

Posted by Fnarf | July 1, 2008 12:09 PM

Arrogance and incompetence are far more likely in this and other conspiracy theories. Furthermore, unlike conspiracies which can be found out, arrogance and incompetence can go on indefinitely.

Posted by LMSW | July 1, 2008 12:13 PM

I think this is very risky; I can see huge potential for this blowing up and becoming a negative for Obama. So far, Clark seems to be navigating the storm fairly well, so I hope it works.

I do agree with his basic premiss: being shot down doesn't in itself make you a good presidential candidate. It just makes you unlucky.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | July 1, 2008 12:38 PM

I don't agree, RP, the only - and I do mean only - issue that McSame has left is his "tough on terrorism" lie.

It's time to let loose the dogs of war and cry havok as they chase down the Red Bushies in the Royalist Party.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 1, 2008 1:39 PM

What is most hilarious is that Clarke made these comments a week or more on MSNBC but when he says the exact same thing on a sunday morning show and John McCain whines its a blowup.

BTW McCain is trying to say that Webb is attacking his service too now.

Posted by cbc | July 1, 2008 1:53 PM

Someone should ask McCain which plane crash made him most qualified for President.

Posted by ru shur | July 1, 2008 2:12 PM

Congrats Eli. It seems Ben Smith at Politico is reading what you have to say.

Posted by Danasorous | July 1, 2008 2:29 PM

No, but what's important is to understand the deep underhandedness of the Bambi Campaign. Barack doesn't have the guts to do this himself, precisely because he hasn't served.

So he gets Clark to do this. And Webb. Barack hasn't so much as commanded a squad to clean out the latrine.

It's dishonest and cheap. But it's good politics. Says a lot about Obama though, none of it good.

Posted by section9 | July 1, 2008 3:04 PM

Yeesh, this isn't a conspiracy theory, and it isn't all that outlandish. Anyone who has ever watched "The West Wing" knows that politics is 87% scripted, anyways. This makes a fabulous point, and while I'm still not completely certain that Obama was behind it, I wouldn't be surprised if Axelrod had his fingers in it.

Posted by Brendan D, Niles, IL | July 1, 2008 3:08 PM

Why isn't anyone in the media calling out the politician who made this smear of John McCain's record?:

"It doesn't take a lot of talent to get shot down."

Maybe it's because John McCain said that about himself.

If anything "in artful" was spoken, it was spoken by Bob Schieffer, the host of Face the Nation, who pointedly interrupted a comment General Clark was making to interject:

"I have to say, Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down."

Wes Clark made his so called controversial statement in direct reply to Schieffer:

"Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President."

How is that less respectful to John McCain's service than what John McCain said himself about his own service? It isn't. This is a media created "controversy" pushed by implying out of context that General Clark offered up his comment as an assessment of John McCain's career. Clearly that is false, but it is now being milked by the McCain campaign to cast him as some type of a victim.

Meanwhile the only veteran who is having his military service smeared is General Clark. And by whom? A spokesperson for John McCain that’s who, when Orson Swindle said this earlier today on a conference call arranged by the McCain campaign::
“General Clark probably wouldn't get that much praise from this group. I can't speak for them, but we all know that General Clark, as high-ranking as he is, his record in his last command I think was somewhat less than stellar. “
Where is the media outrage over that swiftboating of a genuine American war hero, Wes Clark? Clark never said there was anything less than honorable about McCain’s performance in the military, not one negative word. He only discussed what types of qualities are most relevant to being a good president.

Yet McCain’s campaign sends someone out to literally denigrate General Clark’s own military service and the media seemingly is just fine with that.

What Wes Clark is doing is working because people are seeing through the attempt to twist and distort his words out of context.

Posted by Tom Rinaldo | July 1, 2008 3:23 PM

i'm so tired of heroes. so very tired.

Posted by max solomon | July 1, 2008 3:27 PM

One major difference is that what Clark said is objectively correct, whereas what Ferraro said (that being black is somehow an advantage in US national politics) is patently ridiculous.

Posted by ramses | July 1, 2008 3:37 PM

This is a false comparison. Ferraro's comments were racist and indefensible. Clark's comments were tone-deaf but easily defensible.

Posted by nepat | July 1, 2008 4:02 PM

Someone had to highlight McCain's "credentials" that got him into elected office in the first place:

1. Nepotistic admission to Naval Academy because his father & grandfather were 4 star Admirals.
2. Poor performance at the Naval Academy, graduating near the bottom of his class.
3. Mediocre service record, flight instructor for his squadron.
4. Transfer to combat group in Vietnam, along with a couple of million other American men.
5. Shot down after almost 40 bombing raids.
6. Endures vicious beatings and torture for 5+ years.
7. Declines offer of release, out of sense of duty.
8. Release after war, ditches wife & mother of children, when it turns out she's no longer pretty.
9. While still married to 1st wife, actively chases rich, young, pretty 2nd wife.
10. Uses 2nd wife's money to finance 1st campaign for Congress.
11. Uses benefits of incumbency to get reelected multiple times.

Items 5,6 & 7 are about the only "honorable" things on the list. Getting beaten up after being pulled from a plane crash is a rather passive activity: it's not like he had a choice in the matter. Refusing early release is admirable, but after enduring a few years of torture already, it's easy to see someone determining to "ride it out". Again, really not much of a choice there.

What's really going to hurt McCain is not his service record, but his personal life. How can you argue for reduced government, when every single paycheck you've ever received came from the Feds? How can you argue for morality when it's clear you ran from your wedding vows when they became inconvenient? (And circumstantial evidence suggests he was cheating on wife #1 with soon-to-be wife #2.) How can you be a fighter for campaign finance ethics when you were one of the Keating Five? (Keating is a personal friend of Mrs. McCain #2's family and provided jet planes for 1980's Sen. McCain.)

Calling McCain a "war hero" is a gross disservice to real heroes like Bob Dole: people who made choices to go "above & beyond" duty. McCain simply did his duty.

General Wesley Clark has more than enough standing to call out a fellow soldier on his war record. Of course it's political theater. There's a script that needs to be read and heard, folks. You didn't think James Carville was going to jump McCain's brass, did you?

Posted by Sir Vic | July 1, 2008 4:23 PM

great post, @29!

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 1, 2008 4:40 PM

Fnarf - I totally disagree. Clark is dead on correct, and he gained enough exposure and respect on Fox News working as a political analyst that they're paying plenty of attention to his comments.

I say HELL no, don't back down Wes!

Posted by JP | July 1, 2008 7:01 PM

General Clark spoke the truth. Where's the problem with that? How in the world would getting shot down and being a POW be qualifications to be President?

This whole thing is completely ridiculous, but I have learned that the main stream media seems to think McCain, the war hero, is some kind of God. He isn't. I'm voting for McCain, but I had already decided that.

Posted by Viet Vet | July 1, 2008 10:34 PM

Sorry. I'm NOT voting for McCain, but I had already decided that.

Posted by Viet Vet | July 1, 2008 10:35 PM

A nit pick or two for Sir Vic:

You forgot the USS Forrestal fire. He was strapped in to his A-4 and in the launch line when that broke out. He received shrapnel from a bomb explosion, and I believe he broke an ankle trying to get down from his cockpit to the deck. Also, he was trying to help another pilot out of his plane when those bomb fragments hit him.

Then there's all the carrier landings, day and night. That's risky stuff.

Not many combat veterans have a chance to actively and consciously do something heroic. In general, we tend to praise them for the suffering, misery, and general risks they take and the efforts they make, even if -- infantryemn esp -- they wind up being passive recipients of an explosion or projectile of some kind.

Some do go above and beyond and get special medals -- and most of those guys weren't even thinking when they did that.

McCain doing his duty involved a whole lot of injury and suffering and years of physical rehab aftewards. Let's avoid getting into pissing matches about McCain vs. Clark (getting shot by AK round vs. stabbed by bayonnet?) vs. say, Max Cleland, who lost his limbs in mere accidental grenade explosion in-country.

People just tend to, reflexively, like it or not, honor the price paid in uniform in combat or in-theater, no matter how conscious or helpless the whole process was.

Posted by CP | July 2, 2008 12:33 AM

In contrast to what Clark said, Ferraro's comments were true. But the media wouldn't accept any anti-Obama statements so Clark gets away with it. The media supports everything pro-Obama and nothing anti-Obama.

Obama continually uses surrogates to make negative statements so he can keep his image clean. People are easily fooled by that unfortunately.

Posted by Barbara | July 2, 2008 4:30 AM

Barbara, does it bother you that Obama is smarter than Hillary or John McCain? I get the sense that it does :)

But honestly, you shouldn't go around in public saying Ferraro's comments were true. It makes you look ridiculous at best.

Posted by jane | July 2, 2008 5:31 AM

You are right on target Barbara. But you would never get the media to admit to this! Obama will do anything to WIN!

Posted by donna | July 2, 2008 6:45 AM

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