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Critics on the Left and the Right?

I was struck by this Yahoo News headline: “McCain critics on left and right attack war record.”

I was aware of critics on the left. The always-appalling Wesley Clark attacked McCain as “untested and untried,” and attempted to defend that remarkable claim–I can’t offhand think of anyone who has more obviously been tested and tried than John McCain–on Face the Nation yesterday:

SCHIEFFER: Well, you went so far as to say that you thought John McCain was, quote– and these are your words– “untested and untried.” And I must say, I had to read that twice, because you’re talking about somebody who was a prisoner of war, he was a squadron commander of the largest squadron in the Navy. He’s been on the Senate Armed Services Committee for lo these many years. How can you say that John McCain is untested and untried, General?

CLARK: Because in the matters of national security policy making, it’s a matter of understanding risk. It’s a matter of gauging your opponents and it’s a matter of being held accountable.

John McCain’s never done any of that in his official positions.

I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and 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. But he hasn’t held executive responsibility.

That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that 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 this publicly? He hasn’t made that calls, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: Well, General, maybe — could I just interrupt you?

CLARK: Sure.

SCHIEFFER: 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. I mean…

CLARK: Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

SCHIEFFER: Really?

CLARK: But Barack is not — he is not running on the fact that he has made these national security pronouncements. He’s running on his other strengths.

Schieffer deserves credit, I think, for reacting with the incredulity with which most people would view Clark’s attack on McCain.

So I knew the Obama campaign, through Clark, was trying to raise questions about McCain’s military service. But what puzzled me was the rest of the Yahoo News headline. What critics on the right have attacked McCain’s service? I can’t imagine that there are any. So, curious, I followed the Yahoo News link to this Politico story. Only, note the article’s headline: “Some on left target McCain’s war record.” Whoever writes headlines for Yahoo News added the part about “the right.”

In fact, though, the Yahoo News guy wasn’t completely making it up, as the Politico piece, by Ben Smith, does indeed try to create the impression that conservatives as well as liberals are attacking McCain’s military record. Smith begins by citing Clark’s Face the Nation appearance, then continues:

But farther to the left — and among some of McCain’s conservative enemies as well — harsher attacks are circulating.

Smith goes on to itemize the attacks on McCain’s military service: a goofy far left web site called “Americablog” accused McCain of “disloyalty” because, on at least one occasion, the tortures that his captors inflicted caused him to sign a “confession” to war crimes. You can read about it here. Of course, on many other occasions he resisted heroically, as when he ruined a North Vietnamese propaganda shoot by flashing his middle finger at the camera. But we expect nothing better from the author of Americablog. Who else has been attacking McCain’s military service?

The Politico piece mentions another far-left site, Counterpunch, which called McCain North Vietnam’s “go-to collaborator;” Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, who attacked McCain’s service as a bomber pilot; a writer at the left-wing Huffington Post; David Fenton of MoveOn.org; posters on Barack Obama’s web site; Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink; and anti-American crank Noam Chomsky. Notice anything about this motley crew? That’s right. They’re all on the far left.

Politico does acknowledge that “most of the attacks on McCain’s war record are now coming from the left.” Most? How about, all? If you scour the article carefully, there is one instance where McCain was attacked, ostensibly, from the right:

McCain, who sought — along with Sen. John F. Kerry — to debunk claims that Vietnam still held American prisoners into the 1990s, has been attacked in similar terms by leaders of POW/MIA movement, whom he and Kerry cast as charlatans.

I have no idea whether these unnamed “leaders” of the POW/MIA movement were on the left, right, or somewhere else, and I doubt whether Smith has any idea either. Whoever they were, they were angry at McCain years ago for doubting that prisoners were still held in North Vietnam in the early 1990s and for making a series of conciliatory trips to Vietnam beginning in the 1970s. Smith cites not a single instance of a conservative who has criticized McCain’s military service in the context of the current Presidential campaign.

So what is going on here is that Politico–and still more the anonymous Yahoo News headline writer!–know that attacks on McCain’s service by the Obama campaign and other Democrats are poisonous and likely to backfire. So they are trying to give the Democrats cover by creating the misleading impression that these disgusting smears are somehow bipartisan.

Meanwhile, when McCain himself was asked about Clark’s criticisms, he took the high road:

The important thing is that if that’s the kind of campaign that Senator Obama and his surrogates and his supporters want to wage, I understand that, but it doesn’t reduce the price of a gallon of gas by one penny. It doesn’t achieve our energy independence, make it come any closer. It doesn’t help an American stay in their home who are at risk of losing it today. And it certainly doesn’t do anything to address the challenges that Americans have in keeping their jobs, their homes and supporting their families. So, I intend to, in this campaign, to discuss the challenges we face, … and [the] many other proposals and ideas and a plan of action I have to help the families of this nation.

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