- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark’s year-long flirtation with running for the presidency is becoming absurd. Not since Mario (Hamlet-on-the Hudson) Cuomo’s ultimately fruitless presidential dalliance in the eighties has a non-candidate received so much press coverage, most of it uncritical. Mr. Clark is posturing himself above partisan politics, presumably deciding which party he will represent should he actually run for president based on an undisclosed calculus of self-interest. He doesn’t seem to grasp that there are clear philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats, and that choosing sides is a matter of principle, not expediency. Mr. Clark’s actions in the presidential arena make him the equivalent of a political mercenary.

Before Mr. Clark campaigns for the White House, he needs to go through basic training in American politics. His first lesson should be to memorize Lincoln’s adage about the impossibility of fooling all the people all the time. Mr. Clark has been posturing as an independent who doesn’t know whether to run as a Democrat or a Republican. In August, he told CNN’s Aaron Brown that “for me, it’s not about partisan politics.” Yet Mr. Clark’s track record is plainly partisan. In Georgia’s Senate race last year, he endorsed the Democratic incumbent over Republican challenger Saxby Chambliss. Mr. Clark votes as a Democrat in primaries in his home state of Arkansas. The “Draft Clark” Web site lauds him for having “progressive social principles in line with our Democratic ideals.” Time magazine reported last year that Mr. Clark’s presidential prospecting included meetings with top Democratic donors and fundraisers.

Mr. Clark’s evasiveness regarding his Democratic Party affiliations is troubling, but his ignorance of American politics is more disturbing. Last week on ”Crossfire,” Mr. Clark said: “The majority of the people in this country really aren’t affiliated with parties, they’re independent.” This is dead wrong. Three-quarters of the voters register as Republicans or Democrats, and another five percent or so belong to minor parties. Four out of five voters identify themselves as partisans because they embrace the particular set of political ideals for which their chosen party stands. They grasp something that apparently eludes the general: Politics is about principles.

Mr. Clark is a mature man whose intellectual formation includes West Point and Oxford University. If choosing between political parties is so difficult for him, it reveals a core lack of principles. This mercenary mentality raises serious doubts concerning his fitness for the presidency.

Mr. Clark could be attracted to the commander in chief component of the job. Ambition may tell him it is the only rank left to attain higher than that of four-star general. But that is only part of the president’s job description. The majority of a president’s duties involve working with other elected officials. This requires keenly-honed political skills. Mr. Clark’s dismissive attitude toward the role of parties on America’s governing process suggests he would fail miserably as our top politician. Mr. Clark says he is considering running because of a “groundswell” of public support. He seems to be the only political observer who has spotted the groundswell. We rather doubt that the people are, or will be, clamoring for a political mercenary in the Oval Office. They know that the presidency isn’t a matter of choosing a flag of convenience.

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