Sunday, September 21, 2003

What does Wesley Clark want?

Howard Fineman discusses Wesley Clark

After Al Qaeda attacked America, retired Gen. Wes Clark thought the Bush administration would invite him to join its team. After all, he'd been NATO commander, he knew how to build military coalitions and the investment firm he now worked for had strong Bush ties. But when GOP friends inquired, they were told: forget it.

Word was that Karl Rove, the president's political mastermind, had blocked the idea. Clark was furious. Last January, at a conference in Switzerland, he happened to chat with two prominent Republicans, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Marc Holtzman, now president of the University of Denver. "I would have been a Republican," Clark told them, "if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls." Soon thereafter, in fact, Clark quit his day job and began seriously planning to enter the presidential race--as a Democrat. Messaging NEWSWEEK by BlackBerry, Clark late last week insisted the remark was a "humorous tweak." The two others said it was anything but. "He went into detail about his grievances," Holtzman said. "Clark wasn't joking. We were really shocked."

I'm trying to remain open-minded about the General because I don't want the fact that he is running against my chosen candidate to cloud my judgment. If he is a strong candidate who can beat Bush then I don't want to do anything to harm his chances if he should get the nomination.

However, the emerging story about Clark's ambivalence about being a Democrat is troubling. Stories like this, if they are true, suggest that Clark is more interested in what is best for Clark then what is best for the Democratic party.

They might, at this time, be the same thing. But what if Clark's interest diverges from what is best for the Democrats? What do they do then? If Rove had returned his phone call would Clark now be a firm supporter of the administration line on Iraq? Did Clark decide to run for the Democratic nomination because he thinks the Democrats would be better able to handle today's troubles. Or is he doing it because he saw a power vacuum that he could fill?

One of the standard questions we should ask of any candidate for the Presidency is, "Why do you want the job?" I'm still waiting to hear Clark's answer.

Update: I just re-read the passage above and realized that the sources of the "I would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls" quote are two Republicans. Just another data point to consider in assessing how serious the comment was. Clark does not deny saying it. He only says it was a joke.

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