SALEM, Ore. - Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign is trying to clarify comments by former President Clinton that seemed to question Barack Obama's patriotism — comments an Obama aide likened to Joseph McCarthy.
Clinton's campaign said the comments were being misinterpreted and quickly posted a clarification on its Web site. But retired Air Force Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak said he was disappointed by the comments and compared them to those of McCarthy, the 1950s communist-hunting senator.
The former president made the comments while speculating about a general election between his wife and Republican John McCain.
"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," said Clinton, who was speaking to a group of veterans Friday in Charlotte, N.C. "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 former chief of staff of the Air Force and currently a co-chair of Obama's presidential campaign, said that sounded like McCarthy.
"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.
Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer rejected the comparison.
"To liken these comments to McCarthyism is absurd," Singer said. He said McPeak was "clearly misinterpreting" the remarks and suggested that might be an intentional effort to divert attention from a recent controversy involving controversial statements by Obama's former pastor.
In a posting on Hillary Rodham Clinton's Web site Friday, the campaign said the former president was simply talking about the need to keep the race focused on issues, "rather than falsely questioning any candidate's patriotism."
McPeak, who served under Clinton and the first President Bush, was skeptical.
"It's a use of language as a disguised insult. We've seen this before, this little clever spin that's put on stuff," McPeak said. "I have no idea what his intentions are, but I'm disappointed in the statement. I think Bill Clinton is, or ought to be, better than that."
The former president has attracted criticism over earlier comments during the heated Democratic primary race. Following South Carolina's primary in January, he was accused of fanning racial tensions for appearing to cast Obama as little more than a black candidate popular in state with a heavily black electorate.
He also criticized the news media for making a race story out of his comments.