The media and the campaign industry are working hard to keep a fire going and start a teapot tempest over General Clark's utterly uncontroversial comment from the weekend on Senator McCain's credentials. Senator Obama has made comments meant to distance himself from Clark's allegedly awful utterance, but his implicit apology during his so-called patriotism speech today has been rejected by McCain's friends, who hold Obama as much responsible for the comments of his "surrogates" as Obama's friends hold McCain whenever any Republican or conservative speaks ill of the Democrat.
But why is anyone acting like McCain was insulted by a mere statement of fact from Clark? Does anyone want to argue that having your plane shot down is, in fact, a qualification to be President of the United States? How does Clark's statement denigrate McCain's sacrifice for his country, as Obama seems to believe it did? And why does Obama bother bringing it up, even indirectly, without mentioning Clark by name? There's no distancing yourself from statements made by your supporters or "surrogates" this year. Anyone who criticizes Obama will be seen as a committed ally or outright agent of McCain, and vice versa. The only exception is for those who criticize both men; then you're ignored unless you're famous enough to be despised. Otherwise, to denounce one of the two leading candidates is interpreted as doing the other one's dirty work. Both McCain and Obama want to hover above the fray, eschewing "negative campaigning" or the "politics of personal destruction," but their positions on the twin poles of the American Bipolarchy make them the leaders of the rival factions, whatever the bureaucratic reality might be, and they'll be held accountable for everything accordingly. Denying this reality makes both men look foolish.