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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 he’d campaign for. At a recent Republican fund-raiser, he heralded Ronald Reagan’s Cold War actions and George Bush’s foreign policy. He also talked glowingly of current President Bush’s national security team. Absent from the praise list — his former boss, ex–Commander in Chief Bill Clinton.”

It’s 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, he’s 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 week’s 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 wasn’t joking. We were really shocked.”

Opportunism, in fact, seems to be Clark’s 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, Clark’s 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 Clark’s corrective, the general declared, “Let’s make one thing real clear, I would never have voted for this war, never. I’ve 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 you’d said you’d vote for the Bush war resolution. Next, in a Time magazine essay on November 12, 2002, entitled “Let’s 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 Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. But, back on January 18, Clark told CNN’s Miles O’Brien that Saddam “does have weapons of mass destruction.” O’Brien: “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 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy excluding gays from the military should be changed, Clark responded, “Absolutely,” adding, “I don’t think it works. Essentially, we’ve 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 CNN’s 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 Clark’s previous position — if left to its own devices, the military brass will never end exclusion of gays — but it’s 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?

 

We’d love to dissect Clark’s domestic policy positions. Except he doesn’t 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 Clark’s finger-in-the-wind zigzagging on the war, from his previous lifetime identification with the GOP, and from the fact that in his campaign he’s 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 Clinton’s campaign manager and corporate-coddling Secretary of Commerce; and Mark Fabiani, who came to fame as principal spokesman for the Bubba White House’s 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, he’s left such a paper trail that the Bushies would cut up this ex-Republican and eat him for lunch.


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