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Clark's Soft Parade
by Vincent Fiore
19 January 2004Wesley Clark

General Wesley Clark has quietly moved within ten points of liberal darling Howard Dean in the New Hampshire tracking poll.

Caught up in the frenzy of the Hawkeye cauci, it's easy to forget about next week's New Hampshire primary. With the race in Iowa a statistical dead heat, it is now a jump ball for the victory and the momentum going into New Hampshire. By the time this commentary is posted, we will have a winner in Iowa.  So, akin to one of the Stealth bombers he commanded in Bosnia, General Wesley Clark has quietly moved to within 10 points of the antiestablishment darling, Howard Dean. In fact, the latest ARG tracking poll has Clark at 20% to Dean's 28%.

This is quite an about-face for Clark, who polled at 12% at the beginning of the year in New Hampshire.  But unlike John Kerry's barnstorming dash in Iowa that will propel him to a strong finish, victory or not, Clark has tiptoed through New Hampshire, flipping pancakes, getting "folksy," and generally keeping his mouth in check.

Although lately he has returned to form with one ridiculously acerbic statement after another, Clark has remained largely under the radar.  The media, for its part, has had a case of the Iowa vapors in the last several weeks.  For them, candidates like Clark and Lieberman were a non-story, choosing early on to skip Iowa.  Instead, the media gleefully reported on Howard Dean's misstatements and blunders, which shattered his image as the Teflon coated candidate.  As Dean floundered, Clark raised some 14 million dollars and honed his message on the campaign trail.

As Dean sinks, Clark gains.  Former President Clinton, who publicly pledged to remain neutral throughout the primary process, has begun to grease to Clark campaign skids.  Reported by the New York Post's Fred Dicker, Clinton has lit up the phones on behalf of Clark, and further supplied seasoned campaign staff to augment the already bulging legion of former Clinton officials running Clark's campaign.  To further Clark and damage Dean, a letter from then Governor Dean to then President Clinton was front-page news for USA Today.  The letter stated governor Dean's belief, no, his urging, that President Clinton should take, and here is a truly dirty Democratic word, “unilateral” military action in Bosnia in 1995.

Since this was a private letter to the President, I give the analytical reader three guesses as to how it ended up on the front page of USA Today.  If you said by chance or luck, you're just in denial or blissfully ignorant.  Couple this with the "troopergate" scandal against Dean and his continuing misuse of the political moment, and the path for Clark's emergence is made.

Clark's New Hampshire campaign manager Steve Bouchard has attempted to tap into the four star general's "compassionate side."

"At the beginning, he (Clark) was more of a concept than a candidate."  Inundating the Granite State with commercials aimed at tapping that compassionate well, Clark's persona has softened to round out his military rough edge. In one of Clark's latest campaign commercials, a black woman commends his human touch as her commander while serving under him.  This is to dispel the notion of Clark as a "military guy only," and to create someone in touch with today's issues and sensibilities.  You can almost hear Clark saying "I feel your pain."  In essence, Clark must become somewhat of a politician, meaning politically savvy on the issues, if he hopes to compete with Howard Dean & Co.

Then the General will find himself in a three-dimensional chess game, fending off his would-be challengers for the nomination, fighting off Republican attacks from a long list of his own misstatements, and attempting to cast himself as a viable alternative, a populist Democratic centrist in the tradition of the DLC.

But how centrist are you when you boast of the endorsement of uber Bush hater Michael Moore on your campaign web site?

On the "Clark for President" web site, Moore lists his seven reasons for supporting Clark, which reads like an establishment liberal’s wish list.  According to Moore, Clark will cut the Pentagon's budget, gut the Patriot act, promote affirmative-action, and promises to raise taxes by "socking it to the rich with a 5% tax increase on anything they make over one million bucks." This is the usual class warfare line so prominent from nearly every Democratic candidate's platform these days, notably Howard Dean.  There is nothing here to bolster General Clark "the centrist."

After Iowa, all the candidates will land squarely in New Hampshire and the quiet time for Clark will be over.  His recent statements about the war, including his testimony to the House Armed Services Committee in September of 2002 that supported President Bush, will be aired alongside his early Republican Party affiliation.  Even locally, Clark will take heat in New Hampshire for stating that the reason residents' property taxes are high is the lack of an income or General sales tax, a hot button issue for natives of the Granite State.  To me, it is evident that Clark, left to his own devices, could not stand alone.  Surrounded by virtually every Clinton operative from the 92 and 96 campaigns, Clark has gotten this far because of them.

But as the herd thins out in a few short weeks, Dean and Clark will have the news cycles all to themselves.  The press can no longer be occupied with Iowa, nor look the other way when Clark tells the Concord Monitor that if elected, similar attacks as those that occurred on September 11 would not occur again. It is this kind of political stupidity that has caught up with Howard Dean and so too will (again) catch up to Wesley Clark in New Hampshire and elsewhere on the campaign trail. Perhaps things are not as haphazard as I predict for the General. After all, he recently received the endorsement of former Senator George McGovern, who after making a feel good speech on behalf of the General, characterized Clark's vote for Richard Nixon in 1972 as "youthful indiscretion." Don’t blame it on youth, Senator, blame it on good judgment. Come what may, we will see the judgment of the American electorate in regard to the candidacy of General Wesley Clark.

Vincent Fiore is a freelance writer.

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