Barack Obama on Questioning the Meaning of Patriotism

Here we have another rather tremendous speech from Barack Obama, reflecting on our American struggle with people questioning each other’s patriotism. He has some great historical references and also brings in his personal life in ways that make him so much an average person — that his grandmother worked in a bomb-making factory (mine did too!), that his mother read to him from the Constitution while they were abroad, to make sure he understood what it meant to be an American. It’s wonderful to have a presidential candidate who can think and write and convey meaning from his own experience and from his knowledge of history and government.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
The America We Love, as prepared for delivery
Monday, June 30th, 2008
Independence, Missouri

On a spring morning in April of 1775, a simple band of colonists farmers and merchants, blacksmiths and printers, men and boys left their homes and families in Lexington and Concord to take up arms against the tyranny of an Empire. The odds against them were long and the risks enormous for even if they survived the battle, any ultimate failure would bring charges of treason, and death by hanging.

And yet they took that chance. They did so not on behalf of a particular tribe or lineage, but on behalf of a larger idea. The idea of liberty. The idea of God-given, inalienable rights. And with the first shot of that fateful day a shot heard round the world — the American Revolution, and America’s experiment with democracy, began.

Those men of Lexington and Concord were among our first patriots. And at the beginning of a week when we celebrate the birth of our nation, I think it is fitting to pause for a moment and reflect on the meaning of patriotism — theirs, and ours. We do so in part because we are in the midst of war — more than one and a half million of our finest young men and women have now fought in Iraq and Afghanistan; over 60,000 have been wounded, and over 4,600 have been laid to rest. The costs of war have been great, and the debate surrounding our mission in Iraq has been fierce. It is natural, in light of such sacrifice by so many, to think more deeply about the commitments that bind us to our nation, and to each other.

We reflect on these questions as well because we are in the midst of a presidential election, perhaps the most consequential in generations; a contest that will determine the course of this nation for years, perhaps decades, to come. Not only is it a debate about big issues — health care, jobs, energy, education, and retirement security — but it is also a debate about values. How do we keep ourselves safe and secure while preserving our liberties? How do we restore trust in a government that seems increasingly removed from its people and dominated by special interests? How do we ensure that in an increasingly global economy, the winners maintain allegiance to the less fortunate? And how do we resolve our differences at a time of increasing diversity?

Finally, it is worth considering the meaning of patriotism because the question of who is — or is not — a patriot all too often poisons our political debates, in ways that divide us rather than bringing us together. I have come to know this from my own experience on the campaign trail. Throughout my life, I have always taken my deep and abiding love for this country as a given. It was how I was raised; it is what propelled me into public service; it is why I am running for President. And yet, at certain times over the last sixteen months, I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged — at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for.

So let me say this at the outset of my remarks. I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine.

My concerns here aren’t simply personal, however. After all, throughout our history, men and women of far greater stature and significance than me have had their patriotism questioned in the midst of momentous debates. Thomas Jefferson was accused by the Federalists of selling out to the French. The anti-Federalists were just as convinced that John Adams was in cahoots with the British and intent on restoring monarchal rule. Likewise, even our wisest Presidents have sought to justify questionable policies on the basis of patriotism. Adams’ Alien and Sedition Act, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans — all were defended as expressions of patriotism, and those who disagreed with their policies were sometimes labeled as unpatriotic.

In other words, the use of patriotism as a political sword or a political shield is as old as the Republic. Still, what is striking about today’s patriotism debate is the degree to which it remains rooted in the culture wars of the 1960s — in arguments that go back forty years or more. In the early years of the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, defenders of the status quo often accused anybody who questioned the wisdom of government policies of being unpatriotic. Meanwhile, some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself — by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day.

Most Americans never bought into these simplistic world-views — these caricatures of left and right. Most Americans understood that dissent does not make one unpatriotic, and that there is nothing smart or sophisticated about a cynical disregard for America’s traditions and institutions. And yet the anger and turmoil of that period never entirely drained away. All too often our politics still seems trapped in these old, threadbare arguments — a fact most evident during our recent debates about the war in Iraq, when those who opposed administration policy were tagged by some as unpatriotic, and a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.

Given the enormous challenges that lie before us, we can no longer afford these sorts of divisions. None of us expect that arguments about patriotism will, or should, vanish entirely; after all, when we argue about patriotism, we are arguing about who we are as a country, and more importantly, who we should be. But surely we can agree that no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism. And surely we can arrive at a definition of patriotism that, however rough and imperfect, captures the best of America’s common spirit.

What would such a definition look like? For me, as for most Americans, patriotism starts as a gut instinct, a loyalty and love for country rooted in my earliest memories. I’m not just talking about the recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance or the Thanksgiving pageants at school or the fireworks on the Fourth of July, as wonderful as those things may be. Rather, I’m referring to the way the American ideal wove its way throughout the lessons my family taught me as a child.

One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders and watching the astronauts come to shore in Hawaii. I remember the cheers and small flags that people waved, and my grandfather explaining how we Americans could do anything we set our minds to do. That’s my idea of America.

I remember listening to my grandmother telling stories about her work on a bomber assembly-line during World War II. I remember my grandfather handing me his dog-tags from his time in Patton’s Army, and understanding that his defense of this country marked one of his greatest sources of pride. That’s my idea of America.

I remember, when living for four years in Indonesia as a child, listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I remember her explaining how this declaration applied to every American, black and white and brown alike; how those words, and words of the United States Constitution, protected us from the injustices that we witnessed other people suffering during those years abroad. That’s my idea of America.

As I got older, that gut instinct that America is the greatest country on earth would survive my growing awareness of our nation’s imperfections: it’s ongoing racial strife; the perversion of our political system laid bare during the Watergate hearings; the wrenching poverty of the Mississippi Delta and the hills of Appalachia. Not only because, in my mind, the joys of American life and culture, its vitality, its variety and its freedom, always outweighed its imperfections, but because I learned that what makes America great has never been its perfection but the belief that it can be made better. I came to understand that our revolution was waged for the sake of that belief that we could be governed by laws, not men; that we could be equal in the eyes of those laws; that we could be free to say what we want and assemble with whomever we want and worship as we please; that we could have the right to pursue our individual dreams but the obligation to help our fellow citizens pursue theirs.

For a young man of mixed race, without firm anchor in any particular community, without even a father’s steadying hand, it is this essential American idea — that we are not constrained by the accident of birth but can make of our lives what we will — that has defined my life, just as it has defined the life of so many other Americans.

That is why, for me, patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people. Instead, it is also loyalty to America’s ideals — ideals for which anyone can sacrifice, or defend, or give their last full measure of devotion. I believe it is this loyalty that allows a country teeming with different races and ethnicities, religions and customs, to come together as one. It is the application of these ideals that separate us from Zimbabwe, where the opposition party and their supporters have been silently hunted, tortured or killed; or Burma, where tens of thousands continue to struggle for basic food and shelter in the wake of a monstrous storm because a military junta fears opening up the country to outsiders; or Iraq, where despite the heroic efforts of our military, and the courage of many ordinary Iraqis, even limited cooperation between various factions remains far too elusive.

I believe those who attack America’s flaws without acknowledging the singular greatness of our ideals, and their proven capacity to inspire a better world, do not truly understand America.

Of course, precisely because America isn’t perfect, precisely because our ideals constantly demand more from us, patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy. As Mark Twain, that greatest of American satirists and proud son of Missouri, once wrote, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” We may hope that our leaders and our government stand up for our ideals, and there are many times in our history when that’s occurred. But when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism.

The young preacher from Georgia, Martin Luther King, Jr., who led a movement to help America confront our tragic history of racial injustice and live up to the meaning of our creed — he was a patriot. The young soldier who first spoke about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib — he is a patriot. Recognizing a wrong being committed in this country’s name; insisting that we deliver on the promise of our Constitution — these are the acts of patriots, men and women who are defending that which is best in America. And we should never forget that — especially when we disagree with them; especially when they make us uncomfortable with their words.

Beyond a loyalty to America’s ideals, beyond a willingness to dissent on behalf of those ideals, I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice — to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause. 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. Indeed, one of the good things to emerge from the current conflict in Iraq has been the widespread recognition that whether you support this war or oppose it, the sacrifice of our troops is always worthy of honor.

For the rest of us — for those of us not in uniform or without loved ones in the military — the call to sacrifice for the country’s greater good remains an imperative of citizenship. Sadly, in recent years, in the midst of war on two fronts, this call to service never came. After 9/11, we were asked to shop. The wealthiest among us saw their tax obligations decline, even as the costs of war continued to mount. Rather than work together to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and thereby lessen our vulnerability to a volatile region, our energy policy remained unchanged, and our oil dependence only grew.

In spite of this absence of leadership from Washington, I have seen a new generation of Americans begin to take up the call. I meet them everywhere I go, young people involved in the project of American renewal; not only those who have signed up to fight for our country in distant lands, but those who are fighting for a better America here at home, by teaching in underserved schools, or caring for the sick in understaffed hospitals, or promoting more sustainable energy policies in their local communities.

I believe one of the tasks of the next Administration is to ensure that this movement towards service grows and sustains itself in the years to come. We should expand AmeriCorps and grow the Peace Corps. We should encourage national service by making it part of the requirement for a new college assistance program, even as we strengthen the benefits for those whose sense of duty has already led them to serve in our military.

We must remember, though, that true patriotism cannot be forced or legislated with a mere set of government programs. Instead, it must reside in the hearts of our people, and cultivated in the heart of our culture, and nurtured in the hearts of our children.

As we begin our fourth century as a nation, it is easy to take the extraordinary nature of America for granted. But it is our responsibility as Americans and as parents to instill that history in our children, both at home and at school. The loss of quality civic education from so many of our classrooms has left too many young Americans without the most basic knowledge of who our forefathers are, or what they did, or the significance of the founding documents that bear their names. Too many children are ignorant of the sheer effort, the risks and sacrifices made by previous generations, to ensure that this country survived war and depression; through the great struggles for civil, and social, and worker’s rights.

It is up to us, then, to teach them. It is up to us to teach them that even though we have faced great challenges and made our share of mistakes, we have always been able to come together and make this nation stronger, and more prosperous, and more united, and more just. It is up to us to teach them that America has been a force for good in the world, and that other nations and other people have looked to us as the last, best hope of Earth. It is up to us to teach them that it is good to give back to one’s community; that it is honorable to serve in the military; that it is vital to participate in our democracy and make our voices heard.

And it is up to us to teach our children a lesson that those of us in politics too often forget: that patriotism involves not only defending this country against external threat, but also working constantly to make America a better place for future generations.

When we pile up mountains of debt for the next generation to absorb, or put off changes to our energy policies, knowing full well the potential consequences of inaction, we are placing our short-term interests ahead of the nation’s long-term well-being. When we fail to educate effectively millions of our children so that they might compete in a global economy, or we fail to invest in the basic scientific research that has driven innovation in this country, we risk leaving behind an America that has fallen in the ranks of the world. Just as patriotism involves each of us making a commitment to this nation that extends beyond our own immediate self-interest, so must that commitment extends beyond our own time here on earth.

Our greatest leaders have always understood this. They’ve defined patriotism with an eye toward posterity. George Washington is rightly revered for his leadership of the Continental Army, but one of his greatest acts of patriotism was his insistence on stepping down after two terms, thereby setting a pattern for those that would follow, reminding future presidents that this is a government of and by and for the people.

Abraham Lincoln did not simply win a war or hold the Union together. In his unwillingness to demonize those against whom he fought; in his refusal to succumb to either the hatred or self-righteousness that war can unleash; in his ultimate insistence that in the aftermath of war the nation would no longer remain half slave and half free; and his trust in the better angels of our nature — he displayed the wisdom and courage that sets a standard for patriotism.

And it was the most famous son of Independence, Harry S Truman, who sat in the White House during his final days in office and said in his Farewell Address: “When Franklin Roosevelt died, I felt there must be a million men better qualified than I, to take up the Presidential task. But through all of it, through all the years I have worked here in this room, I have been well aware that I did not really work alone — that you were working with me. No President could ever hope to lead our country, or to sustain the burdens of this office, save the people helped with their support.”

In the end, it may be this quality that best describes patriotism in my mind — not just a love of America in the abstract, but a very particular love for, and faith in, the American people. That is why our heart swells with pride at the sight of our flag; why we shed a tear as the lonely notes of Taps sound. For we know that the greatness of this country — its victories in war, its enormous wealth, its scientific and cultural achievements — all result from the energy and imagination of the American people; their toil, drive, struggle, restlessness, humor and quiet heroism.

That is the liberty we defend — the liberty of each of us to pursue our own dreams. That is the equality we seek — not an equality of results, but the chance of every single one of us to make it if we try. That is the community we strive to build — one in which we trust in this sometimes messy democracy of ours, one in which we continue to insist that there is nothing we cannot do when we put our mind to it, one in which we see ourselves as part of a larger story, our own fates wrapped up in the fates of those who share allegiance to America’s happy and singular creed.

Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

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19 responses

  1. joe bernstein

    If Obama is being sincere he should publicly disavow the statement Wesley Clarke made in diminishing the value of John McCain’s service.I wonder how Clarke would’ve fared under the circumstances?
    Obama makes the distinction between the USA and some other countries crystal clear.I don’t understand therefore his tendency to support internationalism-it’s something I pick up on when I listen to him-similar to the tendency of certain Supreme Court justices(Breyer,Ginsburg,Souter)to subordinate aspects of US law
    to international law.We are different than anyplace else in the world in terms of our relation to the government as individuals-the government here is supposed to fear us,not the other way around.When that balance tips the other way,we will be just another spot on the map.

  2. Joe,

    His name is Wes Clark (not Clarke but you may have been thinking of Richard Clarke).

    He is a retired four-star US Army general and former Supreme Allied Commander (the same post that Ike held during WW2).

    Clark was valedictorian of his class at West Point and was Rhodes Scholar at Oxford (McCain graduated dead last.)

    Clark led Operation Allied Force (1999 Kosovo War) that produced zero American deaths and the capture of the tyrant, Milosevic.

    During a battle in Vietnam, he was shot four times by a Viet Cong soldier with an AK-47. The wounded Clark shouted orders to his men, who counterattacked and defeated the Viet Cong forces.

    So, yeah, he has earned the right to call out St John McCain on his military creds.

  3. Guys if I may… In no way, shape or form did General Wesley Clark “diminish the value” of John McCain’s military service or call him on his “military creds”. Both men performed heroically in battle. Bob Schieffer’s question to General Clark implied that Sen. Obama lacked the leadership skills necessary to be Commander-in-Chief. Clark’s responded by asking Schieffer if getting shot down in a fighter jet was a prerequisite for becoming President. Clark was also dead on when he noted that McCain’s stint commanding a Naval fleet in the Pacific was NOT during wartime. The Obama camp did issue an apology, I believe both Sen. Obama and Campaign Manager Axelrod both addressed the comments made by Clark— while Sen. McCain simply shrugged his shoulders and mused aloud that he didn’t know what his surrogate Charles Black was talking about when Black made crytic remarks last week about how a terror attack in October would help the McCain campaign.

  4. No-he hasn’t.He wasn’t a POW,and I guess someone who wasn’t wouldn’t know.Spending years in a hole being physically abused with no likeliehood of escape is different than being shot at.
    I wasn’t sure of the spelling-no I didn’t confuse him with Richard clarke.
    The late David Hackworth,one of the true heroes of the Vietnam War,had a very low opinion of Clark.
    The point is,no one has the creds to dminish mcCain’s service.
    The Kosovo war was insane.We attacked a country that never had a hostile stance towards us in the support of people who are not our friends and never will be.It was a European issue and we should have stayed out of it.We barely destroyed any Serbian equipment,but we did manage to destroy the Chinese embassy.
    I am not questioning Clark’s military record(you can read what Hackworth said for yourself),but Obama lacks any of the experience that Clark cites about McCain.As a matter of fact,Clark did allow that McCain has a lot of foreign policy background.
    On the job training in foreign policy didn’t work out too well for Jimmy Carter,and even he had more executive experience than Obama.
    You didn’t address Obama’s tendency towards deferring to internationalism-maybe you don’t think it’s there.It is a matter of perception.

  5. Richard Brown

    Joe,
    If perception is reality… According to Niebuhr, America was/is most insecure when it had/has amassed the most lethal arsenal of weapons ever assemblied on this planet. With great gifts comes great responsiblity, a responsiblity that our country gladly accepted in the first half of 1900s. We rebuilt and respected our vaniquished foes and defended the defenseless against tyranny. But somewhere along the way
    our insecurities blurred our vision and we saw threats that didn’t exist, we fought wars based on misinformation, and we lost some of our luster if you will. In an ever shrinking world it is becoming apparent that we may no longer control our own destiny–
    take your pick: China, India, Oil, Global Warming, hell, the internet. George W. Bush declared “mission accomplished” prematurely, and we may have been bamboozled by the “Fall of the Soviet Union”–not only are the Russians back–they may have never even gone away. Whether we like it or not the world has changed and we like every other nation are a part of that world.
    Being the parent of two small children I do indeed fear the government of George W John McBush as they shamelessly attempt to deny our freedoms and debase the Constitution of the United States of America. I firmly believe that in order for the United States to return to it’s lofty pre-1950s place in the world, that we as a nation need to adopt a foreign policy of strength through engagement and diplomacy and I feel that Sen. Obama is the candidate that can make that idea a reality.

  6. Donald Wolberg

    Of course Mr. Clark was continuing to pander as the political opportunist he has been for years; to deny that is to deny his record. It was Clark, then carrying water for the Clintons, who in public appearances, speeches and his website (while asking for public money to maintain his website)continually stated and restated the inadequacies and inexperience of Mr. Obama to serve as President. In addition, he touted the “vast” experience of Ms Clinton as the only logical choice for President. After his Clintonian train derailed, Mr. Clark rapidly gravitated to Mr. Obama and “discovered” that 144 days in the Senate, and a record as a typical Chicago pol, now qualified Mr. Obama as Presidential material. Of course, as I recall, it was Mr. Clinton himself, by the way, who removed Mr. Clark from his NATO position, and as I recall, several of the Joint Chiefs found some serious issues with Mr. Clark, that resulted in his “retirement.” Mr. Clark had a short career as a commentator on cable news during both Iraq wars, and was quite the hawk, if memory serves. His revisionism came late and coincided with his deciion to stand as a candidate for President. He performed miserably in the Democratic public debates and was quickly relegated to being a party operative, forever seeking publicity while being rolled out as “military expert.” Mr. Clark’s “Nam” experience apprently lasted about a month, when as a junior officer, he was wounded, and retired from the conflict and pursued staff officer duties. Unfortunately, Mr. McCain’s experience in that conflict was one of torture, daily selfless heroism (documented by his fellow prisoners and his Communist captors) and as an inspiration to all American captives with whom he came in contact.

    Sadly, Mr. Clark should be ashamed for his inopportune and denigrating comments, and it seems that Mr. Obama and his inner political operatives have delivered Mr. Clark under the Obama bus, where he will find Mr. Obama’s clergy, some of his family members, his realtor supporter and his former terrorist friends. One suspects that Mr. Clark will now fade from the scene to become a minor footnote and curiousity to the history of the campaign. However, unlike General McArthur’s farewell address, it will not be a dignified fading, but one of embarassment.

  7. joe bernstein

    Richard-I don’t think Obama is the right man for the role-that is precisely where we differ.Jimmy Carter,a former Governor,and a nuclear proplusion engineer with six years of active duty in the Navy was a complete failure at international relations.Obama reminds me a lot of Jimmy Carter-not up to dealing with the monsters at large in the world.I don’t think McCain is a continuation of Bush-Bush couldn’t shine McCain’s shoes.
    I spent a year in Vietnam-I was not wounded nor a POW,so I can’t compare my experience with either Sen.McCain or Gen.Clark.I can say that war service is a life changing experience.Being a POW even more so.I must remind you that during WW2 in addition to the shameful internment of patriotic Japanese Americans there were other internments-of German and Italian aliens-and the news media was effectively censored.that was under FDR.
    Obama delivers good speeches.I don’t know if he writes them(he may),but sometimes he sounds more preachy than inspiring.
    I have always enjoyed listening to Nelson Mandela who endured harsh imprisonment(later modified)because I think what he says comes from the crucible of hard experience-on the other hand,I can’t tolerate listening to Desmond Tutu,a preachy little fellow if ever one existed.
    Mccain is not a polished speaker,but I think he has the ability to make the tough decision.
    I supported McCain in 2000 and despised Bush for his gutter tactics against McCain.I didn’t vote for Bush,Gore,or Kerry.I feel about McCain like many people feel about Obama-the right man at the right time.
    I disagree with McCain about a few issues-I would be worried about voting for a candidate who I was on board with 100%-it’s not healthy.It is a precursor to dictatorship-because no human can ever have all the answers.

  8. This is the exact text that everyone is talking about.

    GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: 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 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 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’

    Bob Schieffer: Well

    GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: He hasn’t made those calls, Bob.

    Bob Schieffer: Well, well, General, maybe…

    GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: So…

    Bob Schieffer: Could I just interrupt you. If…

    GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Sure.

    Bob 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-

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

    Reading carefully, I really do not see what the hullabaloo is all about.

    I don’t dislike McCain, himself, but I do worry the people that he brings with him.

    In 2000, John McCain’s family was attacked by the Bush-Rove smear machine. What did John McCain do? He embraced the folks who did the smearing. Either he has forgiven them or he has decided that political expediency trumps his family’s emotional well-being.

    In 2004, he spoke out against that same smear machine when he attacked the Swift Boaters but four years later he has embraced the same folks – again, for political expediency.

    Why was it OK to question Sen. John Kerry’s military record but not Sen. John McCain’s four years later?

    This willingness to attach himself to the very people that he was once rejected as repugnant just a few years earlier says much about what type of administration we would expect from him.

    It will be one of the same hard-right conservative policymakers that we have had for the last eight years and get the same disastrous results.

    Also, given McCain’s advanced years, his vice president becomes the heir apparent that much more.

    I would not be surprised that John McCain only sit for one term to allow a Vice President Mitt Romney to run as the incumbent in 2012.

  9. Donald Wolberg

    Advanced years? 71? By what logic in a world that finds age and wisdom matching parameters, is 71 old: Churchill, Mao; Ghandi; Meir; both Castros; Mandela; Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, the Supreme Court with a median age of 78. Mr. McCain is fit, alert, and certainly beings foward a depth of experience and substance not easily found, I suggest reading his books by the way. Does 144 days in the Senate, and the less than desireable attributes of the Daley machine in chicago qualify someone for the job? Looking for resemblace to the Kerry misadvenure is equally foolhardy. There is no comparison that is even remotely comparable and is meant only toconfuse the matter.

    Secondly, in this instance, the story has more to it than the silly words of a pandering political operative, such as Mr. Clark seems to have become, sadly. This is all the more significant since elsewhere on the same day, another Obama operative suggested that Mr. McCain’s years in torture and prison really removed him from understanding issues of peace and war, since he was isolated from the world in a communist prison. One wonders at the coincidence of intellectually empty political operatives’ “meshing” messages.

    Ironically, during the primary competition, Mr. Clark pandered for the Clintons and cataloged Mr. Obama’s lack of credentials as a candidate, highlighting his lack of service or experience in meaningful areas of national and international policy. He contrasted Mr. Obama’s shortcomings with the 30 years of accomplishments of Ms Clinton and touted her as the only viable candidate to defeat the Republicans. Well, the Clinton train derailed and Mr. Clark, ever ready to shift allegiances, jumped aboard the Obama bus and found new merit in Mr. Obama’s non-accomplishments. Those are the facts. Mr. Clark could not find prominence as a candidate himself, and as is the case with many camp followers, he seems ready to follow any camp still in the race. In this case, it seems that Mr. Clark is but one more of those Mr. Obama has cast aside once their presence became an embarassment. Mr. Clark is certainly that. There would a great insult to find sense in Mr. Clark’s empty and self-serving observations and leave them unchallenged.

  10. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) waded into the debate over John McCain’s military service to say that the Republican should avoid using military service in politics….

    “I think what we really need to work on over the next four, five months, and it goes back to the speech that Sen. Obama gave [Tuesday] and this little fight that I’ve been watching and that is, we need to make sure that we take politics out of service,” Webb said. “People don’t serve their country for political issues.”

    He continued: “And John McCain’s my long-time friend, if that is one area that I would ask him to calm down on, it`s that, don’t be standing up and uttering your political views and implying that all the people in the military support them because they don’t, any more than when the Democrats have political issues during the Vietnam War. Let’s get the politics out of the military, take care of our military people, or have our political arguments in other areas.”

  11. joe bernstein

    Webb does have the stature to say what he does and out of his mouth it is constructive criticism.Wesley Clark
    has become a Bob Shrum with a military record.
    I would probably vote for Webb if he ran for President.
    He was Secretary of the Navy and a former Marine officer in Vietnam.He never drank the gun control Kool-Aid that so many Democrats have.His position on immigration is no worse than McCain’s.His son is serving in Iraq(As did McCain’s)and he seems to be a vry intelligent and forthright,sometimes blunt individual,which is a relief from the political whores that mouth whatever will get them some votes.But he’s not running.

  12. Sen. Jim Webb has a new nickname in the US Senate is Mr. Vice President.

    link to story

  13. joe bernstein

    Andre-nobody in their right mind votes for the VP slot-it is a job we all hope is never needed-okay-he can break a tie vote,but that’s about it.This administration was a little different because Darth Vader had Bush’s brain in a jar.

  14. If I may?

    First of all, Clark did not “attack” McCain’s record. He simply stated that getting shot down is not, in and of itself, a qualification for becoming president. I might add, a military record, no matter how distinguished, isn’t a qualification either.

    As an example, I offer Curtis LeMay and Douglas MacArthur. Did their military experience give them tempered insight into world politics? Would you have wanted either of these men as president?

    Plus, Mr McCain’s willingness either to lie, or to be willfully ignorant about conditions in Iraq after his last visit raise serious questions in my mind. Recall how he went on a walking tour–surrounded by a large cordon of military personnel and firepower and declared that Baghdad was “safe.”

    Secondly, the way that this episode has been orchestrated by the Right and their main-stream media lackeys is an indication of the sort of stuff that’s going to be coming from McCain’s campaign over the next 4 months. For instance, McCain hired Bud Day, late of the “Swift Boat Veterans For Truth” campaign of 2004. I don’t know what your several opinions are of this despicable crew–many of whom were on record praising Kerry a short time before they attacked him–but I found the whole thing, well, despicable.

    If Mr McCain is such an honorable man, why hire someone from the gutter?

    Third, if Mr McCain is a man of such staunch principle, why does he now oppose two pieces of legislation that bear his name? I refer to his immigration bill and campaign finance bill. He co-sponsored both, but now he’s against them after he was for them. Earlier he had changed his positions 42 times in the previous two weeks. His “principles” are very dependent on to whom he is speaking.

    Not only that, he may not understand some of his own positions. In a recent earlier this month, he declared himself in favor of cap-and-trade for carbon emissions, but, within minutes of that declaration, said he was opposed to a hard limit on emissions. Apparently, he misunderstood the “cap” part of “cap-and-trade.”

    And yet, and yet, his mainstream media lackeys refuse to call him on any of this.

    No one has attempted to disparage or belittle what Mr McCain endured as a POW. All they’ve done is state–correctly–that this in and of itself is not a qualification for president.

    As for Wes Clark: the man is a retired 4-Star general. Our personal feelings about Kosovo do not change the fact that he carried out his mission successfully. He is a combat veteran. I believe that America still upholds the right to “free speech.” Assuming this, Clark has the right to voice his opinion. But, apparently, anything that disagrees with opinions held by those to the right of center is unpatriotic and pandering.

    Clark is not part of the Obama campaign. He is a Democrat, sure, but he is not part of the campaign. In the meantime, one of McCain’s aides claims that a terrorist attack would be an advantage for McCain. And McCain has hired a Swift Boat Veteran. These men are part of McCain’s campaign. Which is worse? Which is more indicative of the sort of people the Candidate has actively chosen?

    Finally, I would remind readers that St Ronnie Reagan didn’t exactly have much foreign policy experience when he took the presidential oath, either. He had been gov of Calif, 15 years prior to becoming pres. Rather, he had a series of sound-bites (e.g. “peace through strength”) and little else. I recall that one of his first foreign policy advisors had no answers to a lot of the questions asked during his confirmation hearings. The man didn’t know the names of heads of state, and yet St Ronnie chose this guy as a foreign policy advisor.

    And, btw–Reagan’s first National Security Advisor, Richard Allen, stepped down after taking a bribe from a Japanese journalist to set up an interview with Nancy R. OT, I know, but I get really tired of the bromide that Reps are somehow more trustworthy on nat’l security, when the record says otherwise.

    St Ronnie wasn’t responsible for the collapse of the USSR; he was an accidental beneficiary. 9/11 happened on Bush’s watch. Al Qaida is still alive and well and reconstituting itself in Pakistan because Bush outsourced the capture of OBL at Tora Bora. The war in Iraq was a fiasco from the get-go….What, exactly, is this supposed superiority based on other than bald assertions? Our invasion of Grenada?

  15. joe bernstein

    Klaus-you may not like Bud Day,but he received the Medal of Honor and numerous other decorations in the Vietnam War-no one receives the Medal of Honor who has not exhibited extraordinary heroism.The other McCain advisor who made the dumb remark about a terrorist attack is probably not a good person for McCain to have on his team.
    Reagan may not have engineered the fall of the USSR,but he knew where the structure was rotten and how hard to push.
    I have never seen a President in my lifetime as useless as Jimmy carter in world affairs.He is like Ruth Simmons,the president of Brown,who right after 9/11 suggested meeting with our enemies in a peaceful venue to hear their grievances-didn’t she understand that they already made their statement?That they’d as soon incinerate her and her institution as they woukld step on a roach?Fortunately,she only runs a school.Carter completely screwed up the Iran situation,and the Cuban boatlift response was beyond incompetent-I was inside that one,so unless you know something about it I don’t,please take my word for it.Carter is,as a matter of fact responsible for the out of control immigration dilemma we have now.Reagan,Clinton,and the two Bushes didn’t make it any better,but Carter has to wear the dunce cap on that one.
    The point I am making is that Democratic screwups in foreign policy are not hard to find.
    Your remark about Grenada is disrespectful to our military personnel.Maybe you didn’t mean it to be.American military forces won every major campaign of the Vietnam War-the scumbags like McNamara and Kissinger made sure it was for nought(I can spread the blame between parties);Iraq was a bad decision,but the neocons like Richard”Cakewalk” Perle and Rumsfeld who decided to go in light and bypass ammo dumps are responsible for the results,not our soldiers.From Lexington to Kandahar,Americans have never been losers,but they have had to pay the price for loser decision makers.
    Maybe LeMay was not a hot prospect for President,but he kept the Communists from reaching for the button for many years.They knew that no matter who was President,the Strategic Air Command was ready to bring the fire if we were attacked.

  16. No. My remark about Grenada was NOT disrespectful to our military.

    Pardon the bold emphasis, but this whole way of framing any discussion as an issue of “disrespecting the military” is way out of control.

    A criticism–which, I believe, is allowed under the current constitution–of the president is NOT, and naver has been a criticism of the military. The attempt to conflate and equate the two is the worst, lowest form of jingoism and pseudo-patriotism in existence. There is no connection between disagreement with the foreign policy of a given administration

    My remark was aimed at Reagan. He used our military as a prop and a tool to make himself look like he was riding tall in the saddle. It was exactly the same kind of stunt that Bush thought he could pull off in Iraq.

    And I frankly don’t care that Bud Day won a Medal of Honor, or the Legion of Honor. What he did in Vietnam does not give him carte blanche to smear, lie, and poison the political atmosphere, thereby attempting to derail honest, open debate by villifying anyone who happens to be a Democrat. Did he serve his country honorably? Absolutely. So why does he now chose to wallow in the mud and do everything in his power to corrupt and destroy all that our country supposedly stands for?

    You deride and belittle Wes Clark’s career, and yet the Medal of Honor leaves Bud Day above criticism. Frankly, Joe, I’d come to expect better of you than this sort of partisan clap-trap.

    And let’s talk about John McCain’s biggest flip-flop: Torture. He was, admirably, opposed to the notion that our country should torture its prisoners. Now that he’s running for president and doing everything in his power to pander to the RW fringe, he’s in favor of it.

    And btw: I just read that the tactics used in Gitmo came from a 1950s Air Force manual describing how the Communists used these tactics against US personnel. And these are the sorts of tactics that McCain is now endorsing? The stuff we were supposedly fighting against for all those decades after WWII? The sort of stuff that made them the “Evil Empire”? How exactly does that work?

    See, here’s the thing about the USSR. The RW wants it both ways: it was an existential threat, but it was also a rotten ediface. That the USSR never launched a first strike had more to do with the disparity in respective nuclear arsenals of the two countries. Especially in the 1960s, we were so far ahead of the USSR in capacity that using their arsenal was never a serious consideration for them. Ronnie (technically, it was GHWB, I supppose) happened to be in the right place at the right time.

    And, finally, don’t you remember Giap’s quotes? First, he said, you may lose thousands, and we may lose ten thousands, but we will still win. Then, after the war, a US general told him: we won every major battle of the war. Giap’s response was: true, but irrelevant. And LeMay, IIRC, wanted to “bomb NVN back into the stone age.” Apparently he never figured out that they weren’t that far from it. And that was part of their strength.

    Short of actual extermination of the North Vietnamese, there was little the US could do to “win” that war. IIRC, turning NVN into a “parking lot” was a fairly prevalent attitude at the time. Do you advocate those sorts of tactics?

    Lemay’s attitude is staggering. But much, much worse than the barbarity (which is plenty awful), it’s the staggering ignorance that takes my breath. The US cannot impose its will on the rest of the world solely by military means. We have the best-trained, best-equipped, plain best military in history, but military power, per se, is not enough. If it were, the Brits and French would still rule India and Algeria. There are certain types of wars that a superior military cannot win. Ask Napoleon about Spain. Ask the British or the Russians about Afghanstan. We carpet-bombed NVN for years without breaking their will. The Nazis tried to beat Britian with the Luftwaffe.

    Is that what we should have done in NVN? Invaded, occupied, and turned them into a colony? That’s what started the whole problem in the first place.

    What, exactly, does this country stand for? Might is Right? We’re the strongest, so we get to set the rules, and no one else gets any input? Cross us, and we pummel you into submission so we can take your resources, or force you into a mold of our choosing? Force you to have elections, then claim they’re invalid when you elect someone we don’t like, as happened in Palestine?

    Do we stand for spreading “freedom” by force, all the while using our “crusade” to frighten and cow our own citizens into scared silence by decryg how they “disrespect the military?” Is that what we stand for?

  17. joe bernstein

    I don’t think I belittled Clark’s career-but he is just another political operative today.maybe Bud Day is too.It’s not as crime,and I have taken McCain’s side.
    The Vietnam War was a proxy fight between the USSR and the West.We picked up for the French(Big mistake because S.Vietnam was fragmented politically and N.Vietnam and by extension the VC were not)and we couldn’t win the political campaign.And you are right about one thing-people fighting for their home turf are hard to beat unless you’re looking to do what the USSR did in Eastern Europe.And that didn’t last forever.
    I don’t much care about John Kerry-I could never stand him-a self-serving hypocrite who changed his stance by the prevailing breeze.
    I don’t buy into “clap-trap”-I make up my own mind based on experience and research,and sometimes just attitude.
    I thought Bob Kerrey was a good potential President,but he got smeared for doing his job under extreme stress and making a mistake.
    I wasn’t sure you intended any disrespect to the military as I said in my previous post,and maybe I missed the point on that.
    LeMay led the strategic bombing of Japan.it worked.People always bring up Hiroshima and Nagasaki,but fail to realize that more casualties were inflicted by firebombing Tokyo than the first two combined.Hamburg also I think was worse.
    You might not like the LeMays,but you need them.I don’t think we’re perfect,but I can’t think of another country that has done so much to defeat tyrrany.
    Speaking of might makes right,I will mention Ghandi-he prevailed because he was defying the British,who were civilized.What do you think the result would have been with the Nazis,Soviets,or China?
    Sometimes force is the only thing that works.
    Our payback to the USSR for Vietnam was supporting the Mujahadeen against them.It worked,and then backfired.Maybe our worst failing is poor followup.

  18. Joe. You have excellent points. I do agree that there are times only force will work. Gulf War I was a good example. Al Gore was wrong to oppose that war, and GHWB was right to start it. But he did it the right way: building a huge internatioanl coalition, going in with overwhelming force, and having a clear exit strategy.

    I will grant that one needs the LeMays of the world; but we need them in the military, not in civilian office.

    Bottom line is I think we agree more than we disagree, but the points of disagreement can be sensitive. My apologies if I stepped over any lines in the heat of the moment.

    One of my serious sore points is the old “America, Love It or Leave It” attitude. To me, this is the most un-American slogan I can think of, and I feel that the insistence on lock-step submission to a gov’t policy is another representation of that attitude.

  19. joe bernstein

    Klaus-criticizing our government is healthy.I once told Jack Reed on the radio that if he were the only candidate running,I owuldn’t vote for him and if I was on caller ID I didn’t care,because this is one country where one need not fear telling off the representatives of government(bad idea if you’re stopped for speeding :))-I think our elected officials of both parties and all persuasions,from right to left have a way of forgetting who’s working for whom.Just try getting any face time with a member of the federal delegation.Not gonna happen unless it’s in their interest.
    It is easier to go one on one with state legislators,although I don’t know if it does any bit of good.
    I don’t believe in lock step submission to government policy,but on some of these blogs(not this one actually)I encounter people who seem to think we’ve never done anything right.That’s just as shortsighted as blind acceptance.
    Most of our best military leaders eschewed politics.You’re right-being a good soldier may not translate into being a good political leader.
    Hal Moore was on TV last night -he is the hero of the Ia Drang Valley(“We Were Soldiers”)and he asked for more civility in the caampaign-as far as I could tell,he wasn’t coming out for either candidate.
    We could some better commentators also.Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly deserve each other.
    CSPAN has some really good stuff.One show,In Depth,a 3hour once a month interview with various writers is the best format I’ve seen.We have the bandwidth,or whatever it is called on TV and waste so much of it on crap.Case in point:a show where the winner gets to sleep with a plasticized android calling herself Tila Tequila.
    I think Spongebob makes more sense(my grandaughter has me watching it).

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