McCain became visibly angry when I asked him to explain how his Vietnam experience prepared him for the Presidency.
"Please," he said, recoiling back in his seat in distaste at the very question.Two of McCain's allies who were there with him, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, had to jump in and cover for him.
McCain then collected himself and apologized for his initial reaction.Based on that article, it doesn't seem that McCain ever did answer the reporter's question, though Graham made the obvious point that his experience as a POW has informed his position on torture (or at least one of his positions).
"I kind of reacted the way I did because I have a reluctance to talk about my experiences," he said....
So let's get this straight.
When Gen. Wesley Clark says McCain's experience being captured at war isn't a "qualification to be president," that's way over the line. Unacceptable.
But when a reporter asks McCain to explain how his military service is a qualification to be president -- that's over the line too!
Also, is it true that McCain is "reluctant to talk about" his heroism in Vietnam? I don't know. But he hasn't been reluctant to say "I'm John McCain and I approve this message" in an ad showing footage of him as a POW, intercut with a closeup of McCain with the word "hero" emblazoned on his forehead. (Here's a similar example.)
No matter what your opinion is of Barack Obama, I think you have to give him this: he'd never approve an ad that was based on highlighting a specific argument for why he's qualified to be president, but then later try to shut down any rational discussion of that precise point.
For all the talk of Obama as too slick and superficial and not having enough substance, I'm starting to think that McCain is the candidate who has to be carefully choreographed and shielded from spontaneous debate over his qualifications.
We should give McCain huge points for character based on his enormous sacrifice for his country in the Vietnam War. But it's fair to point out that this is not the same thing as leadership ability.
And it's fair to question what's going on with his recoiling.
* * *UPDATE: My mom links to this post and says this in response to my point that Obama wouldn't try to shut down debate over his qualifications the way McCain did:
I think there are some things that Barack Obama has tried to place beyond debate, such as the things his wife has said in political speeches on his behalf.Well, I agree he's clearly tried to shield his wife's comments from rational scrutiny: "Lay off my wife!"
But that isn't a counterexample to what I said. I said that Obama wouldn't put his imprimatur on an argument about his qualifications to be president and then turn around and tell people not to engage with that argument. I'm not aware of any instance of Obama doing that.
What you'd need to point to is something like: Michelle argues that Barack's experience as a community organizer is a qualification for being president ... but then Barack castigates people for asking him how his experience as a community organizer has prepared him to be president! Or Michelle points out that he actually has an impressive legislative record ... but then Barack lashes out at people who ask him whether he really does have a strong legislative record!
But, of course, that hasn't happened.
The only example I'm aware of where Barack tried to say that criticizing Michelle is off limits had to do with an extemporaneous remark she made about her own emotions (feeling proud of her country), not a rational argument that her husband would make a good president.
OK, maybe her comments were written out beforehand, but even so, I don't see any reason to assume that Barack Obama personally vets all his wife's speeches. At least Obama is probably rightly thinking to himself, "Gee, it's too bad that my wife made an ill-advised statement, but it doesn't really have much to do with my campaign, so I wish they'd stop hounding me about it."
McCain, on the other hand, has no excuse for distancing himself from a core argument for his candidacy that was set forth in one of his own ads, followed by the explicit statement: "I'm John McCain, and I approve this message."
(Of course, the real reason McCain supporters shouldn't trash Michelle Obama for her comment about being proud of her country for the first time is that McCain has said the same thing.)