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Barack Obama slaps down Wesley Clark -- gently

June 30, 2008 |  9:44 am

Barack Obama just delivered a speech on patriotism in Independence, Mo., hometown of what was once America's most powerful haberdasher, and offered a mild rebuke to Wesley Clark, who took on John McCain's milBarack_obama_talks_about_patriotismitary record the other day in rather scorching terms.

And just to make it clear, an Obama spokesman sent out this brief statement as Obama was speaking: "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."

Obama's speech focused on his own sense of patriotism, quoting Mark Twain (it's good to quote the locals when you can) and his definition: "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." And, he argued, "no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism."

But Obama, citing the political divide still lingering from the Vietnam War, said that he will not question the patriotism of others and would "not stand idly by" when his own patriotism is questioned. A little bit later, in a comment that seemed to have Clark in its sights, Obama said:

"Beyond a loyalty to America’s ideals, beyond a willingness to dissent on behalf of those ideals, I also believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice -– to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause. Now 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. 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 of both sides. We must always profess our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform, period."

Patriotism is the theme of the week, leading into the Fourth of July holiday.

UPDATE: Our colleague Robin Abcarian, who is traveling with the McCain campaign, reports that he was asked about Clark's comments a little while ago during a news conference after a tour of a Harrisburg, Pa., company that manufactures aircraft turbine parts. Specifically, he was asked about Clark's assertion that getting shot down in a fighter plane is not a qualification for the presidency.

"I think that that kind of thing is unnecessary," said McCain. "I am proud of my record of service, and I have plenty of friends and leaders who will attest to that. But the important thing is if that’s the kind of campaign that Sen. Obama surrogates and supporters want to engage, I understand, but it does not reduce the price of gas by one penny...doesn’t help Americans stay in their homes...it certainly doesn’t do anything to address the challenges that Americans have in keeping their jobs, and their homes and supporting their families."

And: "Gen Clark is not an isolated incident. I don’t know how much Sen. Obama has to do with that issue. I’ll let the American people decide that."

-- Scott Martelle

Photo by Larry W. Smith/EPA 

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