Obama reaches for military cover

The chatter about Barack Obama's consideration of a running mate is getting kind of interesting, even disregarding Hillary Clinton.

First, I should update, some might say correct, a recent column. It deduced that only Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a moderate with high approval ratings in that important big battleground state, would be a better choice than Hillary.

Strickland told National Public Radio last week that he absolutely and unequivocally would not accept a spot on the ticket. He stressed that he was not making an abstract statement by which the option would be left open. He said it wasn't personal against Obama because he'd said the same thing about running with Hillary, whose candidacy he supported.

He did lend his key Ohio political consultant, who'd worked for Hillary in the primary, to Obama.

So does that leave Hillary as the obvious choice? Probably not, because of spouses more than anything. Michelle Obama reportedly hasn't any use for Hillary. Bill wholly complicates the notion of Hillary as vice president.

That left as the most intriguing development of the week the Obama campaign's strategic leaking of the name of retired Marine Commandant Gen. James Jones as someone being "discussed" for the ticket.

"Discussed" is an interesting word, meaning little. It suggests nothing resembling an offer to the general or serious contemplation by him.

To leak mere "discussion" of the general was to signal to wary voters that Obama is not to be feared on national security issues. After all, his people had gone so far as to talk about a retired Marine general for vice president.

Jones is 6-foot-5, cosmopolitan, French-fluent from growing up in France, a former supreme NATO commander and a critic publicly of the war in Afghanistan and privately of the one in Iraq. In Bob Woodward's book, "State of Denial," Jones is said to have declined an interview with Donald Rumsfeld about heading the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

According to the report, he believed that Rumsfeld had too politicized and dominated the group. Generals shouldn't be parrots for politicians, Jones is quoted as saying.

But, as blogger Jonathan Martin of Politico.com pointed out, Jones also is a longtime close friend and adviser of John McCain.

Wes Clark, the retired Army general who also commanded NATO and who sought the Democratic nomination four years ago, may also be a topic of discussion in the context of Obama's veep play for military cover, perhaps with greater interest on his part than Jones, if less excitement about him.

That brings us to the flavor of the week, meaning freshman U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, a war hero and accomplished novelist who was Navy secretary in the Reagan administration. Pundits were agog about this plain-spoken tough guy with blue-collar roots in the Appalachia region where Hillary routed Obama.

Naturally, issues arose. There was Webb's speech at a Confederate monument dedication years ago about the nobility of Rebel soldiers, several of whom were his kin, and how blacks and Southern whites had much in common. There was his once saying women weren't fit for combat, which he has now taken back. There was his aide getting arrested for carrying Webb's gun into a Senate office building, and Webb's saying, when asked about violating the handgun ban in the District of Columbia, that he owed no explanations to anyone about tending to his personal security.

Offhand there's no evident problem. Having a heritage of respect for Confederate soldiers does not connote racism, and, actually, no one is going to peel African-American votes from Obama. Webb is entitled to have been wrong once about women in combat. Packing heat ought to be right up the alley of the Bubbas with whom Obama has a cultural disconnect.

John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.