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Wesley Clark's political career ends.


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Jim Geraghty

Wesley Clark’s political career: Born 2003, died 2004.

A little while ago, I compared Wes Clark’s roman candle of a presidential campaign to inexplicable and regrettable momentary fads, like flash mobs, the XFL, Tickle-Me-Elmo, or New Coke.

Wes Clark’s just-barely-in-primetime address Thursday evening was like an edition of VH1’s “I Love The 80s.” For a brief moment, it was “I Love September 2003,” the month Clark’s campaign with a photo on the cover of Newsweek.

But Clark’s campaign destructed. He was the one who invited Michael Moore on stage with him, where the filmmaker could ignite the empty “deserter” attack. He claimed Brit Hume was an agent of the Republicans, out to destroy his campaign. Eventually, the conventional wisdom on Wes Clark was that as smart as he was and as shiny as the stars on his shoulders were, he was just too weird to beat George W. Bush.

The opening of Clark’s address Thursday evening was fine:

Our freedoms were won in war, and protected by generation after generation of selfless service and sacrifice of men and women in uniform. From Bunker Hill to Bastogne, from the frozen hills of Korea to the jungles of Vietnam, from Kabul to Baghdad, American men and women in uniform have served with honor.

In an era where “war, what is it good for, absolutely nothing” is making a come back, and Wyclef Jean sings about bringing the troops back the day after he is elected, it’s nice to see a Democrat making the case that some wars are necessary and worth fighting. Clark’s moment of silence later in the speech was another needed, appropriate, and perhaps even overdue moment in the convention.

Then he lapsed into an Ernest Hemingway-style clipped description of the turmoil of war: “I’ve heard the thump of enemy mortars. I’ve seen the tracers fly. Bled on the battlefield. Recovered in hospitals. Received and obeyed orders. Sent men and women into battle. Awarded medals, comforted families, attended funerals.” Forgotten nouns.

The lines about thumping mortars and flying tracers were so important, Clark deviated from the prepared text to remind his audience that John Kerry had seen and heard them too, later in the speech.

Then he had to claim the American flag for the Democratic party, attacking the straw man that somehow the GOP claimed sole ownership of the flag. “We saluted this flag. We fought for this flag! And we’ve seen brave men buried under this flag. This flag is ours! And nobody will take it away from us!” No one, Wes, except maybe the protestors outside who want to burn it. But they’re probably conservatives, right?

Clearly, Clark’s job was to make the case that Democrats can fight wars, too. Disturbingly, the delegates–90 percent of whom opposed the Iraq war, way more than the general public–applauded his line, “The safety of our country demands making more friends and fewer enemies.” (Judging by the placement in the text, this wasn’t meant to be an applause line; the following line, about the “doctrinaire, ineffective policies in Washington” was.) Hey, it would be great if we could somehow become friends with Abu Zarqawi, Kim Jong Il, Iran’s mullahs, the al Qaeda crew, the insurgents, and the thousands upon thousands of aspiring suicide bombers in madrassahs from Algeria to Pakistan. But will the American people buy into the argument that the cause of this war is that Americans haven’t tried hard enough to be the friends of Zarqawi and company?

By the way, all of the Vietnam veterans who are angry at Kerry over his claim that they are war criminals should cease and desist, because Clark said, “Kerry fought a war and I respected him for that. He came home to fight for peace and I respect him for that, too.”

Clark revealed how foggy the Democrats’ defense policies are in an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN before his speech. He claimed, “Kerry has been consistent, Bush has slid over to Kerry’s positions.” Bush has changed his approach to changing circumstances, yes; calling Kerry “consistent” pushes the envelope to the point of tearing it.

He said that Kerry would improve Iraq by “working with other powers in the region.” Cooper pressed for more specifics. Clark pledged Kerry would set up “a regional dialogue.” Bush, he contended, had “set up a series of conflicts.” And then he said (paraphrased, I couldn’t write his words fast enough) the Iranians would be more receptive to working with a President Kerry. Yes, I’m sure they would be.

Clark’s worst moments came near the end–when he said, “Great Democrats like Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman who turned back the tide of fascism to World War II. Great Democrats like John Kennedy, who stood firm and steered us safely through the Cuban Missile Crisis. And great Democrats like Bill Clinton, who confronted ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, and with diplomacy–backed by force–brought peace to a shattered land.”

Thought One: Notice anyone missing from that list? LBJ and the commander-in-chief during Desert One?

Thought Two: The line about Yugoslavia got a standing ovation from the delegates. This is ridiculous. Bill Clinton’s record on pursuing al Qaeda was pretty lousy, notwithstanding any documents Sandy Berger may have on that subject. But in the foreign-policy worldview of the Democratic delegates, ineffective high-altitude “tank-plinking” with 19 NATO states exercising vetoes over bombing targets is superior to Tommy Franks’ methods of deposing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.

A moment that revealed much about the Democrats’ thinking, closing out the political career of Wes Clark.



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