Fresh off his “McCarthyism” remarks of last week, former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill “Tony” McPeak gave the Obama campaign another black eye. On Monday, the Weekly Standard quoted McPeak, who serves as Obama’s campaign co-chairman, as saying that “Israel wants peace (but he isn’t sure about the Palestinians).” So far, so good.
Unfortunately for the Obama camp, General McPeak followed that one by observing that that “voters in Miami and New York determine American policy in the Arab world.” Apparently, McPeak didn’t offer any rejoinders about the “international Zionist conspiracy” or similar rot, but the damage had already been done. Even Martin Peretz at The New Republic described McPeak’s comments as “odious.” We’d say Mr. Peretz was being charitable.
The general’s insinuations about the “Jewish lobby” came only days after he accused Bill Clinton of McCarthyism. McPeak was responding to this observation , made by the former President in North Carolina.
“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, 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.”
We’re no fans of Mr. Clinton, but it’s hard to see where his remarks strayed into the territory of Tail Gunner Joe. Still, it was enough to send McPeak running to the microphones, and invoke memories of Senator McCarthy.
“It sounds more like McCarthy,” he said. “I was in college when Joe McCarthy was accusing good Americans of being traitors, so I’ve had enough of it.”
He said that those who know Obama know that he loves America.
“Is this stupid or what?” McPeak asked. “It’s a use of language as a disguised insult. We’ve seen this before. This real clever spin on stuff.”
McPeak’s response to the Clinton comment earned him the ire of Democratic leaders. Yet, it wasn’t enough to reduce his role in the Obama campaign. As of Wednesday, he was still serving as a campaign surrogate, speaking on behalf of the candidate in press interviews. That provided a platform for his reprehensible remarks about Jewish voters and their supposed influence on U.S. foreign policy.
Apparently, Mr. Obama and his staff are realizing something the Air Force learned long ago. Tony McPeak is something of a blowhard and totally tone-deaf, convinced that he is right on virtually everything.
To be fair, large egos are not uncommon among fighter pilots, and we’ve met more than a few flag officers (active and retired) with an arrogant, imperious style. But even in those quarters, McPeak is something of a legend.
During his tenure as Chief of Staff, General McPeak managed to antagonize most Air Force personnel, launching pointless (and expensive) pet projects that ranged from new uniforms to composite units that blended multiple aircraft types into a single wing. The GAO estimated that McPeak’s reorganization experiment cost at least $5 billion, with no appreciable savings in efficiency or performance. Yet, despite intense grumbling from the ranks (and “knock it off calls” from a few General officers), McPeak pressed on with his experiment. Many were quickly reversed after he retired, and McPeak remains the most unpopular Chief in Air Force history.
The same traits that made General McPeak so reviled by airmen are now becoming evident on the campaign trail. Michael Goldfard at the Weekly Standard summed it up well. Given Obama’s lack of a substantive record, he will be judged, to some degree, by the company he keeps. And, for the moment, General McPeak and his comments are reflecting badly on the candidate. That makes us wonder: given the Senator’s willingness to throw friends and family “under the bus,” how long will it take Tony McPeak to join that crowd?