Yesterday on "Face The Nation," retired Gen. Wesley Clark, an advocate for Barack Obama, said, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."
He was taking about presumptive GOP nominee John McCain, whom he had earlier complimented as "a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands of millions of others in the armed forces as a prisoner of war." Despite that service, Clark said, McCain "hasn't held executive responsibility."
"That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded wasn't a wartime squadron," Clark said. "[McCain] hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall." In another interview, Clark called McCain "untested and untried."
This morning, the McCain campaign held a conference call to respond to Clark's comments. The campaign said the purpose of the call was to launch the "McCain Truth Squad" – "a new group aimed at countering the recent attacks on John McCain's military record."
Sen. John Warner, POWs Col. Bud Day and Lt.Col. Orson Swindle, McCain foreign policy advisor Bud McFarland, and Carl Smith, a retired Navy pilot who served with McCain, participated in the call.
McCain spokesman Brian Rogers stopped short of calling on Obama to condemn Clark's remarks, though he said "it would be great" if Obama did. (Warner suggested that Obama apologize to McCain for Clark's comments.)
The participants in the call suggested that the Obama campaign was orchestrating comments of this type concerning McCain's record.
"If the opposing candidate doesn't really have experience or knowledge of depth in international affairs, then one approach can be, I suppose, to deny that Sen. McCain does," said McFarland.
"The Obama campaign seemed to be soliciting these kinds of attacks from surrogates," said Swindle.
"It's clear there's a pattern here," added Rogers. "It's not an isolated incident."
Invoked on the call were comments by senior Obama advisor Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, who said that McCain was a "skinny kid" after being released from a POW camp but has "done very well at the dinner table in Washington."
Day, who was a member of the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, said that he is "well aware of what the commencement of these kind of personal attacks can lead to."
"John was slandered and reviled in the 2000 campaign in a way that denigrated his service enormously, and in my view was probably one of the reasons why he was not the President of the United States in 2000," he said.
Swindle suggested that comments about McCain's record were designed to confuse "those who do not know better" – among them the young voters who support Obama.
UPDATE: Obama just said this during a speech on patriotism in Independence, Missouri:
"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. Full stop."
And his campaign released this statement from spokesman Bill Burton:
"As he's said many times before, Senator Obama honors and respects Senator McCain's service, and of course he rejects yesterday's statement by General Clark."