Clark: Outrage over my comments a 'manufactured issue'
Republican presidential candidate John McCain seems to finally have found a winning issue. It's not the economy, or the war, or his plan to sell coastlines to oil companies; no, the McCain campaign has spent most of the last 48 hours gnashing its teeth over some inartfully phrased criticism.
McCain's rolled out a slew of surrogates to take to the phone lines and unleash varying degrees of "how dare he" on Gen. Wesley Clark, a supporter of Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Clark is not backing down from his observation, first aired Sunday morning, that McCain's honorable service as a Vietnam veteran and POW does not automatically mean he has the right judgment to be commander in chief.
Appearing on liberal radio host Ed Schultz's show Tuesday, Clark stuck to his guns, and he accused McCain and the GOP apparatus of drumming up a false controversy.
"The only orchestration was by Republicans," Clark said, referring to unsubstantiated accusations that his criticism was encouraged by Obama, who has repeatedly distanced himself from Clark's remark.
"I think that since John McCain's hired the Swift Boat team to protect his military record," Clark continued, "they just decided they would launch a preemptive strike."
A McCain campaign conference call Monday featured Col. Bud Day, who appeared in attack ads from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth aimed at John Kerry in 2004. Day also compared Kerry to Benedict Arnold.
The campaign hosted another call Tuesday featuring Sen. Lindsey Graham calling McCain the most qualified candidate because of his military service.
All the hubbub started on CBS's Face the Nation Sunday, when Clark said, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." The "riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down" construction was a repetition of the phrasing of the question from host Bob Scheiffer.
Speaking to Schultz on Tuesday, Clark defended the answer.
"I'm going to answer the question usually the way it's asked, and that's straight talk," Clark said.
"This is a manufactured controversy," he continued, accusing the Republican party of launching a "reconnaissance attack. Someone's going in there to see how the Democratic party's going to handle the national security issues. Because believe me John McCain is running on national security.
"He's claiming that having served in the armed forces somehow gives him superior judgment over Barack Obama. And what I'm trying to say is, while I honor his service for having been a fighter pilot and been shot down and a courageous prisoner of war, that does not give him a claim to superior judgment in the oval office," he continued. "In fact if you look at what he's said, his judgment's been pretty bad on some of the major issues" like the GI Bill of Rights.
McCain is also going after Sen. Jim Webb, who recently urged McCain to "calm down" with the intense umbrage he is taking at mentions of his military service.
For his part, Obama rejected a comparison of Clark's comments to the Swift Boat ads that ran against Kerry four years ago.
"The fact that someone on a cable show or news show, like General Clark, said something inartful about Senator McCain is not keeping Ohioans up at night," he said, during a news conference following a speech in eastern Ohio.
Clark said he has no reason to apologize to McCain, and he seemed to suggest that the outrage from the opposing campaign was calculated at first to distract from a major speech Obama delivered Monday. He also made clear that his statements were not suggested or approved by the campaign.
"It had nothing to do with the Obama campaign," Clark said. If I were going to offer an apology, it would be to Barack Obama. 'I'm really sorry that the Republicans stirred this up in such a way as to take away from your speech on patriotism.'"
The following audio is from The Ed Schultz Show, broadcast on July 1, 2008.