Air Force general: Bill Clinton sounds likes McCarthy

March 21, 2008 6:34:25 PM PDT
A retired Air Force general compared former President Clinton to Joseph McCarthy, the 1950s communist-hunting senator, on Friday after Clinton seemed to question Democrat Barack Obama's patriotism. Merrill "Tony" McPeak, a former chief of staff of the Air Force and currently a co-chair of Obama's presidential campaign, said he was disappointed by comments Clinton made while campaigning for his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a speech Friday in Charlotte, N.C.

"I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country," Clinton said. "And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics."

McPeak learned of the remarks while at an Obama rally in Salem, Ore. Afterward, he called Clinton's statement horrible and compared it to McCarthy, the Republican senator from Wisconsin who held hearings on suspected Communist sympathizers in the 1950s. "It sounds more like McCarthy," McPeak said. "I grew up, I was going to college when Joe McCarthy was accusing good Americans of being traitors, so I've had enough of it."

Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer rejected the comparison. "To liken these comments to McCarthyism is absurd," Singer said. He said McPeak was "clearly misinterpreting" the remarks and suggested that might be an intentional effort to divert attention from a recent controversy involving controversial statements by Obama's former pastor.

In a posting on Hillary Clinton's Web site Thursday, the campaign said the former president was simply talking about the need to keep the race focused on issues, "rather than falsely questioning any candidate's patriotism."

McPeak, who served under Clinton and the first President Bush, was skeptical.

"It's a use of language as a disguised insult. We've seen this before, this little clever spin that's put on stuff," McPeak said. "I have no idea what his intentions are, but I'm disappointed in the statement. I think Bill Clinton is, or ought to be, better than that."

The former president has attracted criticism over earlier comments during the heated Democratic primary race. Following South Carolina's primary in January, he was accused of fanning racial tensions for appearing to cast Obama as little more than a black candidate popular in state with a heavily black electorate.

He also criticized the news media for making a race story out of his comments.