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THE WEATHERS REPORT

Seven questions you should be asking about Candidate Clark.

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IS WESLEY THE ANSWER? So let us now consider Wesley Clark. If you are a Democrat, here are the questions you should be asking yourself: 1) Can a general--a lifelong military man whose career, let’s be honest, has largely been devoted to figuring out ways to have people killed--properly represent the Democrat Party? 2) Can a man who voted for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (twice) and George H.W. Bush for president; who served in Gerald Ford’s White House; who just two years ago praised the current Bush administration as a “great team” at a Republican fundraiser; and who only lately declared his political affiliation be a real Democrat? 3) Does a man famous for his single-minded ambition and long accustomed to having people say “Yes, sir!” to his every command have the personal warmth, humility, and people skills to attract independent voters and later work with Congress as president? 4) Does a Johnny-come-lately who has never held political office and who hasn’t yet fleshed out his positions on many issues (the budget deficit, health care, the death penalty) deserve to get the support of Democrats--especially Democrats who have already placed themselves in either the Dean or Kerry camps? 5) Is he just a stalking horse for Hillary? 6) Is he electable? 7) Should you start working for him? As a lifelong left-wing pacifist-leaning Democrat, I hereby offer my own my answers: 1) Yes. 2) Yes. 3) Let’s hope so. 4) Yes. 5) Of course not. 6) Yes. 7) Yes, if you want a Democrat in the White House in 2005. Let’s take the issues one at a time. 1) A Democratic general? Sure. Why not? True, as a party, the Democrats have always sat far across the room from the military-industrial complex and eyed it with distrust. For Democrats, speaking softly has always been more important than swinging the big stick. But with his experience in negotiating the Dayton accords that ended the killing in Bosnia, and with his credentials as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Clark has learned the importance of going into battle only after you have the support of the international community. Given that the current Republican Party has no respect whatsoever for a true internationalist (see how they’ve marginalized Colin Powell), where else is a politician who believes in multilateralism to go except to the Democratic Party? In fact, think of it this way: If Colin Powell himself asked, wouldn’t you, as a Democrat, welcome him into the party, even now, with open arms? Yes, generals think a lot about having people killed. But they also think a lot about ways to avoid having people killed. That puts them well ahead of Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush. 2) He voted for Republicans in the past? So what? Good for him for admitting it. At last week’s debate, Clark addressed the issue of his “Democratic” credentials to my satisfaction when he said, “I am pro-choice. I am pro-affirmative action. I am pro-environment, pro-health. I believe the United States should engage with allies. We should be a good player in the international community. And we should use force only as a last resort.” For me, that’s as solid an anti-Bush platform as I’ve yet heard, and the guy deserves credit for coming right out and declaring his support for policies (abortion choice, affirmative action) that will immediately alienate many slightly-to-the-right voters who would otherwise have been attracted to him as a military man. All this just proves that Clark is a man who thinks outside political boxes. Indeed, given his chummy-with-Republicans history, he might, just might be able to return a measure of nonpartisan politics to Washington--which could be the most revolutionary thing to happen there in decades. (A note to conspiracy theorists: If you believe Clark is a Trojan horse planted by Republicans to sabotage the Democrats’ presidential campaign next year, please send your cards and letters to Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as liberal U.S. Representative Charles Rangel of New York--all of whom seem to be convinced of Clark’s Democratic bona fides.) 3) Campaign skills? As for this, we’ll have to wait and see. Clark is no Eisenhower. He is not kindly, he is not modest, he was not beloved by his subordinates in the military. Nor is he a Bill Clinton; it is not clear whether he feels anyone else’s pain. What Clark is, however, is smart, articulate, and (as long as he doesn’t fall prey to political handlers) refreshingly frank. In all this--both the vices of ambition and the virtues of brains--he has much in common with Howard Dean. They seem to be two of a kind. Does either of them have the ability to compromise when in the White House? We won’t know until one of them is there. 4) A Johnny-come-lately? Clark did start campaigning late. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing. The other Democratic candidates have been campaigning for months, even years, and that’s too long. It wastes their time, and it wastes ours. As for his supposedly uncertain position on issues, forget his supposed flip-flopping in his first days on the campaign trail, when he said he would have voted in October of 2002 for the Congressional resolution giving the president the power to act militarily against Iraq, then seemed to back off on that stance. He was facing a hypothetical question with any number of hypothetical answers (Do you mean, if I knew only what we knew at the time? Do you mean, knowing what we know now?), and he made the mistake of seeing the complexity inherent in the question. He tried to give something other than a pre-fab sound bite that would have amounted to Monday-morning quarterbacking. For that, he should be congratulated, not pilloried. In truth, Clark has a strong, clearly stated philosophy about the three issues a president can most influence: economic fairness, the environment, and civil liberties. He believes tax cuts for the poor and middle class do more for the economy than tax cuts for the rich. He believes that caring for the environment and protecting the Bill of Rights should be the absolute highest priorities of any administration. None of the other candidates places such an emphasis on those last two issues. Given that the current Democratic candidates have such similar positions on most issues, the question of what they will emphasize as president is paramount for me. Clark’s emphasis, in everything he’s said and written, is on the environment, the need for transparency in government, and civil liberties. In reverse order, those are my Big 3 issues, and he’s right on target on each of them. Bottom line: As president, he’ll nominate the right kind of judges. 5) A stalking horse for Hillary? Nonsense. Like the rest of the candidates, he’s too egotistical to be a stalking horse for anyone. Besides, Hillary and Bill are astute enough to know that Hillary can’t win next year. She’s still too divisive. She needs at least four more years to soften her image in the Senate. 6) Electable? Clark is a dashing, Purple Heart- and Silver Star-winning military hero who says all the right things to liberal Democrats and also appeals instantly to the hardware store clerk in Tennessee who believes in four-star American patriotism and the truck driver in Michigan who believes in four-square American military power. Clark has no experience in Congress or in a state house--a huge plus, since he, like Ike, has no political record to be held against him. Yet he can claim international experience and executive savoir faire. Heck, in a sense, he was commander of all of Europe. He takes the wind out of the Bush administration’s so-called lead on defense issues without alienating those (like me) who think civil liberties and the environment are at least as important as the war on terrorism. Electable? After his first week of campaigning, he led all Democratic candidates in the polls and fared far better in a hypothetical race against George W. Bush than any other Democrat. If he doesn’t flop or start flip-flopping as a campaigner--a big if--he’s easily the most electable of the Democrats. 7) Should you start working for Clark? If you’ve been working for Dean or Kerry, stick with your man. Each deserves a shot in the primaries and may turn out to be a better campaigner than Clark. But don’t let them turn their campaigns against the general. He’s too promising to be made the enemy. Keep aiming your criticism at George Bush. And don’t be shy about jumping to Clark if your candidate begins to flag. And if you’ve been working for any of the other candidates besides Dean or Kerry, get realistic. None of them is going to win the nomination--not Lieberman, not Edwards, not Graham. Shift to Clark right now. If he is as good on the campaign trail as he is on CNN, he’s our best chance of beating Bush and turning the country back toward nonpartisan political sanity. In fact, he’s the best chance by a military mile.

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