The Chameleon Candidate
The putative new Great White (Male) Hope of the Democratic Party, General Wesley Clark, came of age politically when he was seduced by Richard Nixon, for whom he cast his first presidential vote. He later voted for Ronald Reagan (twice), and for Bush père. As recently as two years ago, Clark was appearing at Republican fund-raisers. In Arkansas, at the Pulaski County Republican Committee dinner on May 12, 2001, Clark said that American involvement abroad helps prevent war and spreads the ideals of the United States.
Just two weeks later, U.S. News and World Report said, Insiders say Clark, who is a consultant for Stephens Group in Little Rock, is preparing a political run as a Republican. Less clear: what office hed campaign for. At a recent Republican fund-raiser, he heralded Ronald Reagans Cold War actions and George Bushs foreign policy. He also talked glowingly of current President Bushs national security team. Absent from the praise list his former boss, exCommander in Chief Bill Clinton.
Its only been a month since Clark declared that he was a Democrat, although he went out of his way to tell CNN when he did that both parties have good ideas. However, hes never explained those appetizing GOP ideas. Nor has he ever said in public what made him become a Democrat after a lifelong history of Republican affinities, which makes his conversion sound more like opportunism than principle.
This weeks Newsweek, however, has the explanation: Clark was pissed that the Bush team rejected his overtures in the wake of 9/11. At a conference last January in Switzerland, the magazine reported, Clark told two prominent GOPers that I would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls. One of the two who heard Clark say this, University of Denver president Marc Holtzman, said Clark went into detail about his grievances. Clark wasnt joking. We were really shocked.
Opportunism, in fact, seems to be Clarks middle name. As one retired four-star general recently told the Washington Post, There are an awful lot of people who believe Wes will tell anybody what they want to hear and tell somebody the exact opposite five minutes later. That diagnosis was reinforced just last week when Clark, on Thursday, told reporters that I would probably have voted for the blank-check Congressional resolution giving Bush unlimited power to invade Iraq, according to The New York Times. Now, Clarks supposed opposition to the war was the motoring force behind the Draft Clark for President movement. This was no gaffe Clark repeated his statement twice.
But just 24 hours later, Clark did a complete flip-flop. As the Associated Press reported Clarks corrective, the general declared, Lets make one thing real clear, I would never have voted for this war, never. Ive gotten a very consistent record on this. There was no imminent threat. This was not a case of pre-emptive war.
Sorry, General, but your record on the war has been anything but consistent. Last October, the Associated Press reported youd said youd vote for the Bush war resolution. Next, in a Time magazine essay on November 12, 2002, entitled Lets Wait To Attack, you criticized the Bush war strategy merely for not allowing enough troops to do the job and having a flawed battle plan. But after the fall of Baghdad, you wrote in the London Times on April 10 effusively praising a lean plan, adding that if the alternative to attacking in March with the equivalent of four divisions was to wait until late April to attack with five, they [the Bush administration] certainly made the right call.
Clark, in his most recent incarnation last week, now says there was no imminent threat from Saddams weapons of mass destruction. But, back on January 18, Clark told CNNs Miles OBrien that Saddam does have weapons of mass destruction. OBrien: And you could say that categorically? Clark: Absolutely.
The Iraq war is hardly the only issue on which Clark has flip-flopped. When asked June 16 by Tim Russert on Meet the Press whether the Dont Ask, Dont Tell policy excluding gays from the military should be changed, Clark responded, Absolutely, adding, I dont think it works. Essentially, weve got a lot of gay people in the armed forces, we always have, always will. And I think that we should welcome people who want to serve. But as Clark inched closer to deciding to run for president, he started trimming his position. On CNNs Crossfire a month later, when Paul Begala asked him, Should gays be able to serve openly in the military? Clark responded, I think the military and the chain of command have to decide that. That comment not only reneges on Clarks previous position if left to its own devices, the military brass will never end exclusion of gays but its also ignorant: Only Congress, which passed the failed policy into law, has the power to change it. Is this fudging the straight talk Clark promised?
Wed love to dissect Clarks domestic policy positions. Except he doesnt have any. At his oh-so-brief announcement of candidacy, he rhetorically asked a lot of domestic questions but provided zero answers. However, one can deduce that Clark will emerge as a standard-issue, center-right New Democrat. How? From Clarks finger-in-the-wind zigzagging on the war, from his previous lifetime identification with the GOP, and from the fact that in his campaign hes surrounded himself with a gaggle of prominent Clintonista triangulators like the much-subpoenaed Bruce Lindsey, a star of the 1996 campaign finance influence-peddling horrors; Rahm Emanuel, the political commissar who strong-armed NAFTA through the Congress; Mickey Kantor, the lawyer-lobbyist-fixer who was Clintons campaign manager and corporate-coddling Secretary of Commerce; and Mark Fabiani, who came to fame as principal spokesman for the Bubba White Houses cover-ups of its hydra-headed scandals. All these worthies, for whom no other campaign lusted, are simply keeping their hands in the political pot while waiting for Hillary not in 04, as some media gossiping heads keep insisting, but in 08.
And in the unlikely event that Clark the Chameleon ever does become the Democrats nominee, hes left such a paper trail that the Bushies would cut up this ex-Republican and eat him for lunch.
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