Why would we elect one of the prisoners at Guantanamo as the next President of the United States? Well, the logic is becoming quite clear to anyone who has followed the corporate news media for the past few days. Prisoners at Guantanamo have that special ingredient that John McCain has that makes him an especially good candidate to be president. He was a prisoner and he was tortured! According to many pundits, this confined torture makes McCain a better candidate than Barack Obama.
What provoked this discussion? Recent statements of Wesley Clark that John McCain’s military service doesn’t make him better qualified to be President:
He hasn’t held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn’t a wartime squadron . . . I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.
Please note, however, Clark’s additional words indicating that Clark nonetheless honored McCain’s military service:
I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world.” Clark continued: “But he hasn’t held executive responsibility. That large squadron in Air — in the Navy that he commanded, it wasn’t a wartime squadron. He hasn’t been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn’t seen what it’s like when diplomats come in and say, ‘I don’t know whether we’re going to be able to get this point through or not. Do you want to take the risk? What about your reputation? How do we handle it publicly?’ He hasn’t made those calls, Bob. [Addressed to interviewer Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation].
Invoking only the Clark’s comments that question whether McCain’s military service makes him a better candidate for President (but not Clark’s acknowledgement that McCain was a war hero), the national media is especially going wild making two false claims:
A) That Wesley Clark disparaged John McCain’s military record; and
B) That doing the sorts of things McCain did in the military make him a better Presidential candidate.
I’m not exaggerating when I suggest that the media is going crazy hawking these falsehoods. Watch this compilation and see for yourself:
The commentators in this video have come to John McCain’s rescue, noting that McCain has special experience and character because he did military service. In fact, some of them claim that McCain’s military service especially qualifies him to be President because McCain was tortured and held prisoner during the Vietnam War.
These shrieking commentators are intentionally ignoring Clark’s praise of McCain’s military record, i.e., they are lying. This is backdoor swiftboating by falsely accusing others of swiftboating. It is an attempt to draw attention to Barack Obama’s lack of military service, a clever way of making a groundless argument that Obama is not qualified to be President. This is all especially crazy when the sitting president went AWOL while in the military. Shouldn’t that fact alone make us pause to ask ourselves whether military service per se makes one better prepared to be president? Shouldn’t we go one more step and ask what types of military service might make one a better President? Very little chance of a rational discussion of that sort these days . . .
This whole dispute about McCain’s military service is especially strange, given that the President has many duties, and being Commander in Chief is only one of those duties. An equally important duty is using diplomacy to avoid going to war. Presidents also set the domestic agenda, often by using the bully pulpit to speak out on energy issues, environmental issues, economic issues, administration of justice issues, and social justice issues. Legally speaking, the powers (and therefore the duties) of the President are contained in Article II of the U.S. Constitution.
But back to the fray. Relatively few news personalities are addressing Clark’s real point: Does serving in the military make a person a better candidate for President? It’s true that many Presidents have served in the military, but it is a logical fallacy to argue that being in the military thus makes one a better President. It’s as silly as saying that because all Presidents have been Caucasian (or men) that being Caucasian (or a man) is a prerequisite to being President. Maybe being in the military is good for a career for reasons other than the training to make one a fighting machine. The military is far more than a fighting machine. It’s also a giant social club. Perhaps serving in the military enables one to make lots of social connections with others who served when one chooses to run for office.
Consider, too, that there are both pro’s and con’s to being in the military. Perhaps serving in the military makes a person too uni-dimensional to be President. After all, there are all of those other Constitutional powers and duties, very few of them furthered by being trained in the art of war.
I would agree with Clark that some types of military service might prepare one to be President (e.g., having “executive responsibility”). I would also agree with Clark that many types of military service do not necessarily make a person better qualified to be President (when compared with someone who has no military experience).
It should be patently obvious that being a prisoner or being tortured doesn’t prepare one to be president. If so, sitting Presidents should all go on special retreats where they are imprisoned and tortured so that they were better prepared for office. If anything, being tortured causes long-term injuries and psychological damage—not an obvious asset for a person aspiring to be President.
Torture subjects often suffer from a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Their strong feelings of hate, rage, terror, guilt, shame, and sorrow are also typical of subjects of mobbing, childhood abuse, domestic violence, domestic vice, rape and incest. They feel anxious because the perpetrator’s behavior is seemingly arbitrary and unpredictable—or mechanically and inhumanly regular.
What about flying planes or getting shot down while flying an airplane? Do these activities make you a better President? I don’t see any connection at all. I know people who fly airplanes who would make terrible Presidents, whether or not they’ve ever been shot down.
And what about flipping the switch to drop big bombs on people from the cockpit of a plane? This was one of McCain’s jobs in the military. Did this make him a better candidate for President?
Consider, further, McCain’s attitude regarding the bombs he dropped:
McCain knew that what he was doing was wrong. Three months before he fell into that Hanoi lake, he barely survived when his fellow sailors accidentally fired a missile at his plane while it was getting ready to take off from his ship. The blast set off bombs and ordnance across the deck of the aircraft carrier. The conflagration, which took 24 hours to bring under control, killed 132 sailors. A few days later, a shaken McCain told a New York Times reporter in Saigon: “Now that I’ve seen what the bombs and the napalm did to the people on our ship, I’m not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam.”
Yet he did.
“I am a war criminal,” McCain said on “60 Minutes” in 1997. “I bombed innocent women and children.” Although it came too late to save the Vietnamese he’d killed 30 years earlier, it was a brave statement. Nevertheless, he smiles agreeably as he hears himself described as a “war hero” as he arrives at rallies in a bus marked “No Surrender.”
[Since writing this post, I have searched for the original transcript of the "60 Minutes" admission. Here are some links. Based on the transcript, I think that the above-quoted Common Dreams passage should have made clear that McCain made this confession while in a North Vietnamese prison. He stated that he regretted making the statement and that he broke under torture. Now, however, I'm curious whether McCain would deny that he dropped bombs on innocent women and children. In short, does he merely regret saying that he did this or does he regret doing it?]
When you do things soldiers do, does it really make you a better President? What about climbing a rope, cleaning a gun or learning how to salute? Do these things make you a better President?
What about going through boot camp? Does that make you a better candidate to be President? Think about it. Going through boot camp breaks down your sense of individuality. How can that make you a better leader of an allegedly free country? Yet many conservatives are arguing that military service makes one a better president. Consider the many leaders conservatives admire. How many of them have ever seen any combat? Not Ronald Reagan. Not Dick Cheney. Not Dan Quayle, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, Phil Gramm, Clarence Thomas, or George Will—all of them conservative Republicans who were of draft age during the Vietnam era yet none of whom served in the conflict.
This claim that military service makes one a superior candidate for President is so utterly ridiculous that it brings to mind this Monty Python video (from their movie “The Meaning of Life”). If you believe the pundits currently hammering on Wesley Clark, here is vignette featuring a person who is especially well qualified to be President:
For more on this issue of whether military service is good preparation to be President, consider this video commentary by Cenk Uygur