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Commander in Chief

About a year ago, Garry Wills had some thoughtful things to say about the notion of the president as commander-in-chief and about what that role has evolved and is evolving into. He talked about the militarization of our politics, the way “wartime discipline” has become the norm rather than the exception, and about the glorification of the president as a military leader.

I can’t improve on what Wills said. But I can register alarm at the sudden, crazy veering of Hillary Clinton to inform the world that she and John McCain are commander-in-chief material, while Barack Obama is not.

My friend Pete sent me this quote, which I find in a Baltimore Sun blog:

“I think that since we now know Sen. (John) McCain will be the nominee for the Republican Party, national security will be front and center in this election. We all know that. And I think it’s imperative that each of us be able to demonstrate we can cross the commander-in-chief threshold,” the New York senator told reporters crowded into an infant’s bedroom-sized hotel conference room in Washington.

“I believe that I’ve done that. Certainly, Sen. McCain has done that and you’ll have to ask Sen. Obama with respect to his candidacy,” she said.

Sure. As Wills points out, everyone and his sister has to strike the military pose now (even when the effect is comic rather that martial). That part’s unfortunate, but no shock. What seems like lunacy, though, is the embrace of McCain. Yeah, that may help her in her contest with Obama. But apparently she cares nothing about what happens when she or Obama will actually be running against McCain. She’s endorsing him, for crying out loud.

But that’s not the only way in which she’s taking leave of her senses. She’s decided that she has to play act at the job of commander-in-chief. First with the “red phone” ad, and now — as the Sun’s blog describes — by holding what was described as a “cabinet style” press conference in the company of a bunch of military officers who support her. What she’s doing is working to reduce the primary campaign to the president’s military role. Again, this must be aimed solely at Obama, because no one can honestly believe she’ll compare favorably to McCain if that’s the way the campaign is framed.

It’s possible she’s given Obama an opening, though. The president’s military conduct during the last eight years was repudiated in the 2006 election. McCain’s rhetoric about war has become so extreme that, as my brother John pointed out, people are calling him McBush. Clinton is recklessly aligning herself with McCain (an act that, among other things, makes you wonder what, if anything, she really believes about Iraq). After the decade we’ve just gone through, and the prospect that continuing on the same path will not only cost trillions but cripple the armed forces the Bushes, Cheneys, McCains (and now Clintons) profess to love so much, wisdom, restraint and an open mind will look pretty good in the Oval Office. That’s Obama’s argument to make.

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