Obama Rejects Clark Comments On McCain's War Service

In a speech on patriotism yesterday, Barack Obama distanced himself from Gen. Wesley Clark's criticisms of John McCain. On Sunday, the retired general, speaking about McCain, said: "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."

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BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, school phobia and school-philia (ph). I'm Mike Pesca. It's July 1st, 2008.

And yes, we will speak of a girl who is scared of school, and a school that seems to be doing the impossible, and the people that love it. But school's out for summer, as the bard sang, and therefore, I took full advantage of this over the weekend and went to see a concert in a pool, a closed-down pool, don't worry, we weren't floating. It had just rained, and for some reason, it rained terribly. It's been raining the last few days in New York.

The water was still collecting, for some reason, on the bottom of this pool, amassing, if you will. I don't know what a good word for it would be, pooling, sort of pooling on the bottom of this pool. And the weird thing is, this was a converted pool. They were holding a rock show there. They were selling beer. They were selling hard liquor, and still strictly enforced was the no-horseplay rule.

I remember when I was seven, and I first encountered the no-horseplay sign at the pool. Like everyone else at that age, I asked my mother, what do they mean by no horseplay? Which is kind of weird, because that sign is aimed at seven year olds, and not one seven year old ever related to the term, "no horseplay."

It would probably behoove - to use a horsy term - it would behoove the sign makers, perhaps, to define it a little bit. But I do remember thinking as a seven-year-old, regarding the no-horseplay sign, well, I will certainly, throughout my life, encounter this rule in other contexts other than the pool. But no, never. Horseplay is a spool - a pool-specific reference, and the dictionary makers need to incorporate it as such.

That said, on the show this hour, countries are always keen to say, we do not negotiate with terrorists in hostage situations, but the fact is, they sometimes do. We'll kind of look at the history of negotiating with terrorist organizations. We'll look at Israel and Hezbollah, who are doing a prisoner exchange.

We'll also tell the story of a Pennsylvania schoolgirl who is scared of school. She has School Phobia. She's been reimbursed by the district. Now the district wants part of their money back, claiming the girl squandered the money. We'll talk to the girl and her mother.

And a - and from a story of a kid who's not great at school, we'll do the story of a school that has done great by their kids. Eighth graders in a Harlem school all passed the statewide math test, one of the few schools in the entire state that did it. They said it couldn't be done. We'll talk to the administrator and founder of that school. We will get today's headlines in just a minute, but first...

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PESCA: Barack Obama is campaigning on his patriotism this 4th of July week, but a surrogate's comments over the weekend are getting in the way. Obama spoke yesterday in Independence, Missouri, in a big-picture speech, reminiscent of his address on race several years ago. NPR's Robert Smith was there. Here's how he set the scene.

ROBERT SMITH: It was a serious, almost lecture-like speech to about 1,000 people at the Truman Memorial Building in town. He stood in front of four American flags, and wore a fifth one in his lapel. It was Obama's early refusal to wear such a flag pin that started much of the whispering campaign in the first place.

PESCA: Obama told the crowd that when he entered public life, he thought his patriotism was a given.

(Soundbite of campaign speech, June 30, 2008)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; 2008 Presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee): And yet, I've found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged, at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for.

PESCA: And Obama says he won't cede the issue of patriotism to the Republican Party.

Sen. OBAMA: When we argue about patriotism, we are arguing about who we are as a country, and more importantly, who we should be. But surely we can agree that no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism.

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PESCA: Obama also said that he won't sit back and let others question his love of country, and he also wants his own supporters to practice what they preach. Unfortunately for Obama's campaign, that memo came a day late for retired General Wesley Clark. In discussing John McCain's military service on CBS's "Face the Nation," the Obama surrogate, Clark, said McCain hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. Host Bob Schieffer interrupted.

(Soundbite of TV show "Face the Nation")

Mr. BOB SCHIEFFER (Host, "Face the Nation"): I'd have to say Barack Obama has not had any of those experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down. I mean...

General WESLEY CLARK (Retired, U.S. Army; 2004 Democratic Presidential Candidate): Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president.

Mr. SCHIEFFER: Really?

PESCA: In a statement yesterday, Obama rejected Clark's remarks and said he respects McCain's service. And here's how McCain himself responded to General Clark yesterday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; 2008 Presumptive Republican Presidential Nominee): I think that that kind of thing is unnecessary. I'm proud of my record of service, and I have plenty of friends and leaders who will attest to that.

PESCA: McCain is heading to Latin America today for a three-day trip to Colombia to talk trade, and to Mexico to talk immigration. As for Obama, today in Ohio, he's expected to call for an expansion of President Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives. Obama was in Unity, New Hampshire, with Hillary Clinton, last week. He talked patriotism in Independence yesterday. Sadly, all the convention halls in Faith-Based Initiatives, Ohio, were booked, so he'll be in Zanesville. You can go to npr.org throughout the day for updates on that story. Now, let's get some more of today's headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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