MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) -- Former President Clinton is using divisive tactics and unfairly trying to question Barack Obama's patriotism, a retired general who has a prominent role in the Democrat's campaign said Saturday.
Merrill "Tony" McPeak said he was astonished and disappointed by recent comments Bill Clinton made while speculating about a general election between Obama's Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Republican John McCain.
Standing next to Obama on stage at a campaign stop in southern Oregon, the retired Air Force chief of staff repeated Bill Clinton's comments aloud to a silent audience.
The former president told a group of veterans Friday in Charlotte, N.C.: "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."
McPeak, a co-chairman of Obama's campaign, then said to his Oregon audience: "As one who for 37 years proudly wore the uniform of our country, I'm saddened to see a president employ these tactics. He of all people should know better because he was the target of exactly the same kind of tactics."
That apparently was a reference to Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, when he was accused of dodging the Vietnam War draft.
Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton's campaign, said Saturday that McPeak's comments were a "deliberately pathetic misreading of what the president said." Wolfson said the remarks had nothing to do with Obama and were merely meant to underscore the need to keep the presidential race focused on issues.
McPeak also had made off-the-cuff remarks to reporters Friday in comparing the former president's comments with the actions of Joseph McCarthy, the 1950s communist-hunting senator.
"I grew up, I was going to college when Joe McCarthy was accusing good Americans of being traitors, so I've had enough of it," McPeak said.
Wolfson called that comparison outrageous and called for a retraction.
"I think most Democrats were shocked to learn that a two-term Democratic president was compared to Joseph McCarthy," he said.
McPeak was more scripted Saturday and joked that "occasionally I say something a little earthier."
Last month, Obama's wife, Michelle, drew criticism for telling an audience in Milwaukee, "For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country. Not just because Barack is doing well, but I think people are hungry for change."
The campaign clarified those comments by saying she was proud of U.S. politics for the first time and has always been proud of her country.
Both Bill Clinton and McPeak have been criticized in the past for their campaign comments. Following South Carolina's primary in January, Clinton was accused of fanning racial tensions for appearing to cast Obama as little more than a black candidate popular in a state with a heavily black electorate.
In February, McPeak was forced to retract his comment that Obama "doesn't go on television and have crying fits" - a reference to Hillary Clinton's show of emotion while campaigning in New Hampshire. The Obama campaign in February said those comments "crossed the line," but it offered no retraction to McPeak's latest comments.