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%.
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
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.