As Patterico reminds us, one candidate will be conspicuously absent next month, during a planned "military town hall meeting" near Fort Hood, Texas. The candidate, in case you've haven't guessed, is Barack Obama, and his refusal to participate in the forum (scheduled for 11 August) is emerging as an issue in the campaign.
According to The New York Times, event organizers have repeatedly asked Mr. Obama to appear at the town hall meeting, but he has declined, citing scheduled conflicts. An Obama surrogate told the Times that the Senator has another event scheduled for that date:
“Senator Obama strongly supports America’s veterans and military families and has worked hard on their behalf in the Senate,” said Phillip Carter, director of Mr. Obama’s veterans effort and an Iraq war veteran. “While we unfortunately had a previously scheduled commitment on the date proposed, Senator Obama looks forward to continuing the dialogue he’s been having throughout the country with veterans on how we can better serve our men and women in uniform as they serve us.”
But there's a bit more to this story that Mr. Carter is telling. Groups sponsoring the event have indicated that the forum can be rescheduled, to accommodate Obama's schedule. But the presumptive Democratic nominee is taking a pass on the military town hall, which is expected to attract an audience of 6,000 active duty personnel, retirees, dependents and veterans. CBS has already agreed to broadcast the event, from 9-11 p.m., eastern time.
So why is Obama taking a pass? We're guessing that the Senator--and his advisors--have sized up the crowd as largely pro-Republican, despite recent claims of Democratic "inroads" among military voters. By various estimates, career officers, non-commissioned officers and retirees are much more likely to support GOP candidates than the average voter. The Fort Hood town hall meeting would probably be the most hostile audience that Obama has faced to date--a far cry from the fawning crowds that typically greet the Senator.
Obama advisers are also concerned about a possible faux pas during the forum, similar to the one he committed last week. During a press conference, the Senator said that one of his first acts as president would be to tell the "Chief Joints of Staff" to begin an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Never mind that the Joint Chiefs of Staff serve as military advisers to the commander-in-chief, outside the operational chain. If Mr. Obama wanted a pullout from Iraq, he would have to confer with the theater commander, General Petraeus, and the newly-appointed commander of forces in that country, General Ray Odierno.
The Illinois Senator has committed enough gaffes on the campaign trail without risking a few more at Fort Hood. Those military types might pose questions beyond the candidate's frame of reference, asking why TriCare (the armed services health care plan) still delivers such lousy service; or how many brigade combat teams the Army really needs, or how many F-22s should be in the Air Force inventory.
Reading his recent interview with Military Times, it's apparent that Mr. Obama's knowledge of military issues is tissue-thin. Being a smart politician, Obama has no desire to highlight his ignorance on a national stage, before a voting group that is solidly against him.
And that's unfortunate. The military town hall forum for presidential candidates is an idea that's long overdue, and the groups sponsoring the Fort Hood event deserve tremendous credit. Mr. Obama's opponent, John McCain, also deserves plaudits for agreeing to show up.
But don't expect McCain to get a one-man, nationally-televised show next month. We're guessing that the Obama campaign is already lobbying CBS to pull the plug, and there's a good chance the network will comply. With much of the MSM already in the tank for the Democratic nominee, they have little incentive to make their candidate look bad. By the time 11 August rolls around, the Fort Hood forum will be luck to attract a cable audience.