When liberals and some progressives offered their enthusiastic support for front-running Democratic presidential contenders Wesley Clark and Howard Dean during the peak of the primary season 2004, it became evident that oppositional politics were in a dismal state in these United States of America. Support for the candidates ranged the full spectrum of the establishment left, from publications like The Nation, to former vice president Al Gore, to liberal celebrities like Michael Moore.
With decades of unremitting right-wing assaults on every sphere of American life having succeeded in jerking the political and cultural landscape to the right, the main battlecry coming from "the left" in the 2004 election season was the "Nobody but Kerry," better known as the "Anybody But Bush" (ABB), spectacle.
But the "Anybody" in that statement meant "anybody with a realistic chance of winning the election." Long before the first primary, the genuinely progressive platforms of Democratic candidates such as Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich had been deemed unrealistic and unworthy of consideration not only by the media but also by liberal activists and advocacy groups who often conceded privately that they preferred a Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, or Ralph Nader.
Another White Knight from Little Rock
Four-star general Wesley Clark first commanded public attention as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO during the US war on Serbia in 1999, and as a CNN military analyst up until September 2003. Early in 2004, a grassroots campaign to draft Clark to run for the presidency formed and, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, garnered many signatures. When Clark received a letter from left-liberal author and filmmaker Michael Moore urging him to run for president after the famed liberal met the general at a private New York shindig, Clark's campaign got a significant -- albeit unanticipated -- boost. According to Moore, his letter helped generate 30,000 letters to the "Draft Clark" campaign and, sure enough, a few days later Clark declared his candidacy.
Because he was a general whose anti-Bush positions on Persian Gulf Slaughter II, the Patriot Act, and other reactionary policies could not seriously be deemed "unpatriotic," "anti-American," or "crazy," Clark was for a short while considered "our best hope" to defeat Bush in 2004. But a closer look at the past of the real Wesley Clark makes us wonder why so many liberals and erstwhile progressives like Moore went gaga over Wes. And more importantly, this grotesque display tells us something about the superficial nature of politics on the left, where many were so willing to embrace such a candidate.
Clark's decision to run as a Democrat was an odd development, and his allegiance to the party was questionable at best. Not only did Clark cast his first presidential vote for Richard Nixon, but he also voted twice for Ronald Reagan and George Bush the Elder. Up until 2002, Clark was delivering speeches at GOP fundraisers in his home state of Arkansas, fuelling speculation he was considering a run for the Oval Office as a Republican. In a speech he delivered at a fundraiser for the Pulaski County Republican party on May 11, 2001, Clark praised Ronald Reagan's Cold War policies which created a huge military build-up, Bush Sr.'s foreign policy that slaughtered Iraqis in the first Gulf War and singled out the current administration's hyper-unilateralist national security team, boasting: "We're going to be active, we're going to be forward-engaged. But if you look around the world, there's a lot of work to be done. And I'm very glad we've got the great team in office: men like Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Paul O'Neill -- people I know very well -- our president, George W. Bush. We need them there because we've got some tough challenges ahead in Europe."
It is embarrassing to see progressives falling for such politics -- and for someone who essentially waffled on his political allegiances.
Clark only declared himself a Democrat in August 2003. Why the decision to run as a Democrat? A hint can be found in a September 29, 2003 edition of Newsweek. After 9/11, Clark had expected the Bush Administration to enlist him in its "War on Terror." As the article explained:
"[Clark had] been NATO commander, 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. [Clark] happened to chat with two prominent Republicans, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Marc Holtzman . . . '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. 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."
"Anti-War" Ain't What it Used to Be
So why were liberals and progressives so enamored with Clark? Part of Clark's appeal stemmed from the widespread perception that, as Michael Moore wrote in his aforementioned letter, Clark "oppose[s] war." But as the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) revealed in a review of statements made by Clark before, during, and after the Iraq war, if Clark was "anti-war," the term had clearly been gutted of any meaning:
* In an article published in The Times of London, April 10, 2003, Clark savored America's great "victory" over Iraq: "Liberation is at hand. Liberation -- the powerful balm that justifies painful sacrifice, erases lingering doubt and reinforces bold actions. Already the scent of victory is in the air. Yet a bit more work and some careful reckoning need to be done before we take our triumph . . . President Bush and Tony Blair should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt."
* As the US and its client Israel were beginning to focus their crosshairs on other Arab nations like Syria and Iran, we had Clark writing in the same article: "But the operation in Iraq will also serve as a launching pad for further diplomatic overtures, pressures and even military actions against others in the region who have supported terrorism and garnered weapons of mass destruction. Don't look for stability as a Western goal. Governments in Syria and Iran will be put on notice -- indeed, may have been already -- that they are 'next' if they fail to comply with Washington's concerns."
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