September 19, 2003


Wes Clark's bad day (Joan Walsh, September 19, 2003, Salon)

It's not time for panic about the Clark campaign, or rage about the top-down groundswell behind him, only questions: What was the retired general spending his time on in the last three months, while the world knew he was only his wife's blessing away from declaring his candidacy? Wasn't there a minute to catch up on the Brady Bill, to figure out whether he'd have voted for the Iraq war declaration in Congress last October and exactly why, to research whether or not he voted in 1972 -- "I hope I voted then," he said, "and I would have voted for [Richard] Nixon." And why are party big shots so enamored of this politically untested general who admittedly performed well in CNN studios but doesn't seem ready for the rough and tumble of campaign trail journalism?

It wasn't the political positions Clark stated that were disturbing as much as the apparent lack of thought behind them. His confessing that despite his doubts about the Iraq war he "probably" would have supported the resolution in Congress isn't indefensible -- John Kerry made the same decision for much the same reason (although he's finding the nuances of his choice tough to defend politically). What's disturbing is Clark's appearing to have hardly thought about it much until now, and the vacillating way he defended his position once he took it.

A moment after saying he'd probably have voted for the resolution, he added, "I don't know if I would have or not. I've said it both ways because when you get into this, what happens is you have to put yourself in a position -- on balance, I probably would have voted for it." But later, talking about Howard Dean's opposition to the resolution, Clark said, "I think he's right. That in retrospect we should never have gone in there. I didn't want to go in there either."

The most surreal moment came when the Iraq questions were getting tougher, and Clark called for his press aide Mary Jacoby. "Mary, help!" the retired general cried, in a moment that could define him, and not as the tough military leader his supporters tout him as. The soothing Jacoby reminded Clark, "You said you would have voted for the resolution as leverage for a U.N.-based solution."

"Right," Clark responded. "Exactly."

The problem for the General is that the Left has already gotten in bed with Howard Dean, so their press minions aren't going to let him slide on this stuff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 19, 2003 10:57 PM

Wouldn't it be just too much to watch someone ask Colin Powell, Norman Schwartzkopf, or Tommy Franks what they really think of Wesley Clark? And then Clark can let his press aide respond in kind.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 19, 2003 11:04 PM

Having been sent there by Instapundit, I've been reading the comments on dailyKOS (a pro-Dean, Democratic blog) concerning Clark. The comments are hysterically funny.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 19, 2003 11:08 PM

Oh, it's going to be such fun to see the democrats' civil war.

Posted by: some random person at September 19, 2003 11:17 PM

"You said you would have voted for the resolution as leverage for a U.N.-based solution."

I think maybe he should just stick to the off-the-cuff statements.

Posted by: Jerome Howard at September 20, 2003 12:12 AM

One thing I haven't seen in all the press coverage of the Democratic primary--I'm not saying it isn't out there, I just haven't seen it if it is out there--is any reporting on where the "superdelegates" are lining up. Given that the "superdelegates" are a third or so of the total number of delegates, they have de facto control over who ends up being the nominee.

Are they behind Dean? Clark? Kerry (the haughty, French-looking senator and husband of an outspoken ketchup heiress who once served in Vietnam, didn't you know that)? If Clark is the Clintons' handpicked favorite (or Hillary stalking horse, take your pick), one would expect the superdelegates to form up behind him.

Anyone know?

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 20, 2003 6:32 AM

Clark simply stumbled in his first "Triangulation 101" test. He's trying to do on the stump what Hillary is doing with her public pronouncements and Senate voting record -- project one image (anti-Iraq/Bush) while covering your options the other way, so that when you have to go before the bulk of the voting prblic instead of just the Democratic faithful, you'll have some record to cite to show you were simpatico with their ideas all along.

OJ's right that the Dean people -- who really want to mold their U.S. to their beliefs as opposed to the "power for power's sake" ideology of the Clintonites -- won't allow Clark to get away with his attempts to be all things to all people. But since the bulk of the population is paying attention to the California recall, if they're paying attention to politics at all, Clark can get past this initial gaffe with not much damage if he's a quick learner in political doubletalk.

Posted by: John at September 20, 2003 8:13 AM

If anyone has it on videotape Clark calling for his press secretary for help they can rerun it over and over to kill his reputation

Posted by: AWW at September 21, 2003 1:16 AM