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

As always on the national political scene, a person gets in trouble when they speak the truth.  Caught in a political misstep after making a valid point, retired General Wesley Clark has faced a barrage of incendiary commentary from right wing pundits and hit men in the past week and a half for his remarks concerning Senator John McCain’s military experience, in relation to the Presidential race. Chicken hawks were frothing at the mouth by the next morning, ready to lambaste General Clark for pointing out that flying an air plane and getting shot down does not translate to executive experience as it does in the higher echelons of military command. To mollify veterans and Democrats who heard it out of context (thanks to the shrewd reporting by the sensationalistic national media) he clarified his remarks on Good Morning America.

"John McCain as a young officer demonstrated courage and character, but the service as president is about judgment," General Wesley Clark told ABC’s Good Morning America. "The experience that he had as a fighter pilot isn’t the same as having been at the highest levels of the military."

Per usual in the game of Republican campaigns, General Clark was shouted down for making sense and pointing out a legitimate point. He never questioned Senator McCain’s service record, or his support for the countries men and women in uniform. He simply commented on the flawed logic in the Republican campaign for President that being a fighter pilot does not simply, by itself, qualify an individual for the oval office. It is not a qualification that should be promoted on its own merit as a reason to elect someone to the highest office in the land.

What General Clark’s remarks have done, besides getting the conservative media worked up, are subtlety raise the issue in the back of everyone’s mind. These comments may be thought of as on his own and off the cuff, but it’s just as likely this was a planted comment by Democratic operatives to accomplish just such a notion: for the press to discuss whether or not McCain is as qualified as he says from a military perspective. Designed to act as a counterweight to Senator Barack Obama’s perceived lack of knowledge in foreign affairs and military issues, and yes, probably a tryout for a potential running mate for General Clark either dramatically improving or diminishing his odds depending on the aftermath. Of course Senator Obama condemned the remarks publicly, but on the inside there are strategists who hope the subject gains traction.

The response from Republican political operatives should come as no surprise. The military record and image of patriotism associated by Senator McCain is the single, strongest card in the Republican deck. This was one of the biggest reasons he was the eventual nominee in this current political climate. An American media that has it’s citizens in a continuous wartime frame of mind will respond best to a presidential candidate that can boast an unquestioned record of military service, which the public will associate with the duties of the Presidency. It’s 50/50 that the public takes the bait, but it was the best odds the Republican Party could hope to muster at this juncture in American history. This is no slight against Senator McCain in any sort of manner, but simply how strategists at the Republican Party are making their moves.

The backlash against General Clark was not surprising. It was yet another display of hypocrisy that many have come to expect from the far right and those whom associate with it. The ironic elephant in the room being the Republican Party had no problem covertly supporting the swift boat campaigns against Senator John Kerry in 2004. Yet anyone who questions how military service below the flag level could be considered a major qualification for the Executive Branch is immediately labeled as unpatriotic and subject to conservative media firing line. By their own convoluted logic, you’d think General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, would have substantially more credibility than the swift boat campaigners that supported an Administration who’s leadership never saw action in the field.

Senator McCain remains their best play for the White House, and when that record comes under fire from an individual with arguably an even greater record of service to the nation, the party is threatened with losing its biggest trump card. It will act to counter such accusations with a burning zealotry usually reserved for the very fanatics whom pose the greatest danger to the United States.