Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Saturday, January 24, 2004
 
Fun With Context

Tacitus has some artfully arranged quotes from Clark which he is using to imply that Clark disdains all junior officers.

Clark on Kerry, part one:

"Senator [Dole], with all due respect, [John Kerry is] a lieutenant and I'm a general....It's one thing to be a hero as a junior officer. He's done that and I respect him for that. He's been a good senator. But I've had the military leadership at the top as well as at the bottom."

Clark on Kerry, part two:

"I stayed with the military all the way through," Clark told reporters after rallying volunteers at his headquarters...."I'm only saying I stayed with the United States armed forces. I'm proud I did. Lots of us did," said Clark, answering a question about his and Kerry?s military service.


Let's look at the first quote with the passage Tacitus has quietly omitted put back in its place (omitted words in bold):

"Well I don't agree," General Clark said. "Senator, with all due respect, he's a lieutenant and I'm a general. You've got to get your facts right."

Asked later about the exchange, General Clark acknowledged Senator Kerry's military background. But, he added: "Nobody in the race has got the kind of background I've got. I've negotiated peace agreements. I've led a major alliance in war. It's one thing to be a hero as a junior officer. He's done that and I respect him for that. He's been a good senator. But I've had the military leadership at the top as well as at the bottom."

This shows what Clark really meant, and what Tacitus doesn't want readers to see. Clark is talking about what qualifications each man brings to be a President. He quite properly points out that Kerry's service as a junior officer, while heroic, involved limited responsibilities. He was responsible only for the execution of orders, without being involved in broader problems of strategy and objectives.

The same thing, minus the personal heroism, could be said of Kerry's work in the Senate. The Senate, as a body, is responsible for a great deal. But the power and responsibility is divided a hundred ways. An individual Senator is personally responsible only for managing his or her own office, a few dozen employees. So it's easy for both Kerry and Edwards to run around now attacking the Patriot Act without mentioning that both of them voted for it. After all, it wasn't passed by them, it was passed by The Senate. You know, bunch of guys, Washington insiders. Nothing like me, I swear.

Kerry deserves respect for his service both in Vietnam and the Senate. But what preparation either has been for the Presidency is a very valid question.

Clark, by contrast, has experience at the top levels. That means he was involved in such activities as playing a major role in negotiating the Dayton Accords, representing the US in negotiations both with allies and adversaries. He played the key role in holding together the NATO alliance during the Kosovo war. He also had to manage and command the entire US military presence in Europe, responsible for the lives and duties of over 100,000 men and women along with about the same number of civilian dependents. That gives him levels of experience that Kerry simply can't match. There is nothing wrong with Clark pointing this fact out to voters.

In the second example, context has been not omitted, but provided. Or, to be less charitable, invented. The headline on the story Tacitus cited reads: "Clark Contrasts His, Kerry's Military Careers" . But here is the meat of the story:

Retired General Wesley Clark yesterday noted he "stayed with the U.S. Army" through the Vietnam War, setting up a contrast with White House foe John Kerry, who left the military and became a war critic.

"I stayed with the military all the way through," Clark told reporters after rallying volunteers at his headquarters. "I stayed with the United States Army through Vietnam. I was company commander there. I fought and I was hit by four rounds."

Kerry, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1966-69 and won Monday's Iowa caucuses, has climbed slightly ahead of Clark in some New Hampshire polls leading up to Tuesday?s Democratic Presidential primary.

"I'm only saying I stayed with the United States armed forces. I'm proud I did. Lots of us did," said Clark, answering a question about his and Kerry's military service. Clark's 30-plus years of military culminated with his post as Supreme Allied Commander during the Clinton administration.

The original reporter and Tacitus both assure us that Clark is attacking Kerry here. If we just read what Clark says and ignore the spin, we notice that Clark doesn't mention Kerry. There's nothing in the quote that even implicitly talks about Kerry. Clark is only talking about his own background; the criticism of others is only in the presentation of the quotes, not in the quotes themselves.



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