Obama: For Denouncing Clark Before He Was Against It?


Per ABC's Sunlen Miller, Sen. Barack Obama said the following at a press availability in Zanesville, Ohio this afternoon: “I think in at least one publication [it] was reported that my comments yesterday about Senator McCain were in a response to General Clark. I think my staff will confirm that that was in a draft of that speech that I had written two months ago.”

That’s an interesting response -- one that might have surprised members of Obama’s own press staff. When reporters (this one included) contacted the Obama campaign Monday morning to ask about his response to Wesley Clark’s comments, they were told to watch the speech.

And the response might have surprised Obama himself -- Monday Obama, at least.

This was the question asked Monday by a reporter from ABC’s Kansas City affiliate, KMBC: "Yesterday Wesley Clark, on ‘Face the Nation,’ said because John McCain got shot down that doesn't make him a leader. That seems to be violating the very rule you talked about today about questioning the military service of anybody."

Obama's answer: "Well, which is why I was very clear that General Clark's remarks don't reflect my beliefs. I have consistently said that John McCain is a genuine American hero and his service deserves to be honored."

To recap: Monday Obama was "very clear General Clark's remarks don't reflect my beliefs." Tuesday was cloudier: His comments were not in response to what General Clark said.

Tuesday Obama also said that while Clark’s comments were "inartful," they were not in the same ballpark as the Swift Boat attacks on Sen. John Kerry.

"I don’t think that General Clark you know had the same intent as the Swift Boat ads that we saw four years ago -- I reject that analogy," Obama said.

This is what Obama actually said, in his speech in Independence, Mo.: "For those like John McCain who have endured physical torment in service to our country -- no further proof of such sacrifice is necessary."

"Let me also add that no one should ever devalue [military] service, especially for the sake of a political campaign, and that goes for supporters on both sides," Obama continued. "We must always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform. Period -- full stop."

After the speech, campaign spokesman Bill Burton issued this statement: "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."

Taking Obama up on his offer to have his staff confirm details of his speech, I contacted the Obama campaign Tuesday to find out if those last two sentences were added to the speech with Clark in mind. I’ll let you know when I get a response.

I did get this more generic response from an Obama spokesman: "This is a speech he's been working on for some time, and as he has said numerous times before, Senator Obama respects and honors John McCain’s service to his country and wanted to recognize that in his remarks on patriotism in America."

Obama has been consistent in honoring McCain -- but less so in his message on Clark.

What changed between Monday and Tuesday? For one thing, the liberal blogosphere rallied to Clark’s defense (and against the mainstream media).

But you don't have to get into motivations to reach another conclusion: Obama's hints of waffling on whether he wants to denounce Clark or go easy on him seems certain to keep this in the ether for another day.

McCain dialed up the pressure Tuesday afternoon: "I think it's up to Sen. Obama now to not only repudiate him, but to cut him loose," he told reporters on board his campaign plane en route to Colombia, per ABC’s Bret Hovell.

-- Rick Klein

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