High-profile supporters of Sen. Barack Obama dismissed the notion Monday that he would be a "dream team" vice-presidential nominee, arguing that the suggestion -- as put forth recently by the rival Hillary Clinton campaign -- was but a political ruse intended to distract voters.
"It is somewhat amusing that at the same time...the Clinton camp is trying to suggest that Sen. Obama is not ready to be commander in chief, they are touting him as a potential a running mate, which puts him a heartbeat away," said Susan Rice, a foreign policy aide to Obama. "He is not going to be a running mate. He is going to be commander in chief."
Rice's comments echoed those made by the senator earlier in the day, part of a larger strategic effort made by the Obama camp to refocus the media spotlight away from attacks on the candidate's national security credentials. In a forty-five minute press conference with reporters, Rice was joined by three former service secretaries -- Clifford Alexander, Jr. (US Army), Richard Danzig (US Navy) and F. Whitten Peters (US Air Force) -- each taking turns touting Obama's foreign policy capacity.
"I think people recognize, anybody who really deals with Senator Obama, what an extraordinary commander-in-chief he would really be," said Danzig. "And I think it is difficult for others to effectively deny it. They can talk about his not having this or that experience or this or that particular attribute. But the reality is, as Secretary Alexander said right at the outset, it is character and his judgment."
A new argument not yet heard on the campaign trail was added in praise of Obama: that his youthful appeal would make him a boon to the country's military recruiting.
"Sen. Obama has demonstrated an ability to inspire people; especially among younger voters the turnout has been dramatic," said Peters. "And it is those younger voters who are the same people who must be recruited by military services."
The surrogates also struck back hard against assertions that Sen. Clinton was more qualified to be commander-in-chief, challenging the New York Democrat to provide one instance in which she handled a crisis management situation.
"For Senator Clinton to suggest that somehow her experience as First Lady uniquely qualifies her for that phone call is a dubious proposition," said Rice, a former Clinton administration official. "We continue to ask the question as to what exactly is the experience that Sen. Clinton can point to that indicates that she has had real crisis management experience? And when asked that question we get 20 seconds of silence," Rice said.
Indeed, the machinations of the Clinton campaign were a thread of discussion throughout the presser. Earlier in the day, Clinton's spokesperson Howard Wolfson said that while Obama was not yet ready to be commander-in-chief, he might pass that threshold by the time of the Democratic convention. Asked to respond to the logic, Alexander declared:
"Howard Wolfson has a particular role. It's a spokesman's role, and it is a role to agitate if he can. The issues in this campaign are far more important..."
The Obama supporters also used the press conference to counter policy questions that have recently haunted their candidate's campaign. Much of the focus was on Iraq, as Rice dismissed the notion that Obama was hedging on his campaign pledge to withdraw U.S. combat troops within 16 month time frame. Former campaign advisor Samantha Power, who stepped down last week after calling Hillary Clinton a "monster," had suggested in a different interview that Obama's withdrawal plan might in fact take much longer. Rice downplayed that idea and instead turned the accusation of waffling back on the Clinton camp.
"We don't know what Sen. Clinton's plan is," she said. "She has said really that she would meet with the Joint Chiefs upon taking office and begin the process of redeployment within 60 days. She hasn't said when she aims to conclude it... and [many Iraq analysts] have called into question her readiness to continue and proceed with a phased redeployment if circumstances on the ground should become more complex. Rather than [spokesperson] Howard Wolfson playing politics you should ask Sen. Clinton what's her specific withdrawal plan."