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Wesley Clark and the Unbearable Banality of Campaign '08

They hit back at the Obama camp -- hard:

"If Barack Obama wants to question John McCain's service to his country, he should have the guts to do it himself and not hide behind his campaign surrogates," Smith said.

"If he expects the American people to believe his pledges about a new kind of politics, Barack Obama has a responsibility to condemn these attacks."

The real problem for the Obama campaign was that Clark wasn't supposed to make headlines with his appearance on Face the Nation. Obama scheduled a "big speech" in Independence, Missouri for Monday on an issue that the campaign is desperately trying to put behind them; the perceived lack of patriotism of Obama. But instead of the candidate's stirring words about love of country and honoring the sacrifices of past heroes being the story, Obama was forced onto defense and the headlines were about him throwing another erstwhile supporter under the campaign bus:

For those who have fought under the flag of this nation – for the young veterans I meet when I visit Walter Reed; for those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country – no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary. And let me also add that no one should ever devalue that service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides. We must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform. Period. Full stop.

Clark, seeking some sort of vindication, defended his attack ("inartful," quoth Obama -- which seems to be a buzzword of his campaign of late) by ignoring the slam against McCain's courage and concentrating on his valid points made about McCain's lack of "executive" experience. But by this point, Clark had already been kicked off the Greyhound and was trying to hold on to the undercarriage; another casualty of the Obama campaign.

That's OK, Wes. I'm sure the Obama Administration will have a posting for you somewhere. How about Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan?

But how far off base was Wes Clark in his comments? He continuously praised McCain's service, acknowledged his sacrifice as a POW and related how much a hero he was to an entire generation of Americans who served in the military. Other surrogates for Obama have since gone before the cameras to make exactly the same argument as Clark regarding McCain's lack of leadership experience in the military. (McCain commanded a squadron in the Navy.)

However, the McCain camp insists that by attacking his demonstrated lack of command experience, the Obama campaign is attacking his service. Aside from Clark's snide comments about McCain being shot down as no big deal and irrelevant to his qualifications to be president, the attack on McCain's national security credentials has been fairly tame -- at least from authorized Obama surrogates. Lefty blogs took the attack several steps farther and miles lower by savaging McCain for using his experience as a POW in his campaign. This paragon of liberal virtue (a writer who made his bones by outing gay Republican staffers against their will) accused McCain of disloyalty for making a propaganda film for his captors rather than being tortured to death:

A lot of people don't know, however, that McCain made a propaganda tape for the enemy while he was in captivity. Putting that bit of disloyalty aside, what exactly is McCain's military experience that prepares him for being commander in chief? It's not like McCain rose to the level of general or something. He's a vet. We get it. But simply being a vet, as laudable as it is, doesn't really tell you much about someone's qualifications for being commander in chief. If McCain is going to play the "I was tortured" card every five minutes as a justification for electing him president, then he shouldn't throw a hissy fit any time any one asks to know more about his military experience. Getting shot down, tortured, and then doing propaganda for the enemy is not command experience.

You stay classy, netroots.

This is where such banality leads -- mindless, vitriolic attacks on both sides that have nothing to do with the campaign but everything to do with generating heat and grabbing headlines. Campaigns engage in this idiocy because the time between the end of the primaries and the build up to the conventions is a great big empty maw of nothingness for the media. They have to fill it with something. And in addition to standard speeches on issues and plans for the future (which, let's face it, are boring and bring in few readers and attracts few eyeballs for the news nets), the tussles over what one candidate or the other or one surrogate or the other said is the only excitement around.

Granted, for many bloggers, this red meat kind of attack can be fun and profitable. We all do it to varying degrees. It gives everybody something to write about while showcasing those whose talent lies in name calling and 100 proof snark. This leads to links, and more readers, and the approbation of your peers.

But contributing to a sensible dialog for the campaign? Not so much.

The internet has only made the problem worse. And in the future, as more and more people receive their primary news of the day from the net, you can be sure that these dust ups are only going to get more intense and, if possible, even sillier than they are now.

John McCain's military experience is a legitimate subject for discussion as far as how that experience helps or doesn't help him if he were to become president. But the attempt by both sides to score political points off of statements by one surrogate or another who "inartfully" make a point serves no purpose other than to churn up a lot of sound and fury that signifies nothing.