- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 16 (UPI) — The major media of this country often seem to learn from past reporting mistakes as little as Michael Jackson learns from plastic surgery errors. This may be why they have been falsely reporting for about a month now that George Walker Bush is a "popular wartime president."

The fact is that no credible poll has shown him at more than 60 percent approval in at least a month. Cases in point, the new CNN Gallup Poll, which shows him at 58-percent approval and the current FoxNews Dynamic Poll, which showed him at 57 percent.

Last week in a bigger blow, the nationally respected Harris Poll showed that Bush's poll numbers have plummeted in the past month. It included 1,010 respondents. Just to give some perspective, in my experience as a Democratic pollster we routinely used samples of 400 to make determinations.

According to Harris, Bush has a 52-percent approval rating, down from 64 percent last month. Even more alarming to his political team, his disapproval rating has climbed from an already high 35 percent to a scary 46 percent. That 52-percent positive rating, by the way, was Bush's poll rating in August 2001, immediately the nation rallying around him after the al-Qaida terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. President Teflon now has a problem.

The economy is falling faster than America's image abroad, the number of Americans lacking healthcare has gone through the roof and as Dick Gephardt said in his presidential announcement speech earlier this month, Bush's idea of alternative fuel is switching from "Exxon to Texaco."

So Bush has really only one card left to play. That of commander in chief. Now I am not going to spend this column pontificating about the motivations of this White House for sending U.S. troops to fight between the Tigris and Euphrates, but certainly, after the way Democrats' patriotism was impugned during the 2002 midterm congressional elections, we can expect Bush to play the role of our defender from the evildoers during his 2004 re-election campaign.

Yet, Democrats have the perfect answer. His name is Wesley Clark. Clark, or Gen. Wesley Clark as he was known from 1997-2000 when he was the supreme allied commander of NATO in Europe, served in Vietnam unlike those chickenhawks currently masterminding Iraq war strategy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and successfully handled our 1999 foray into Kosovo. He has raised some eyebrows in Washington recently by meeting with Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic National Committee chairman; visiting New Hampshire before the 2002 midterm election and endorsing Democratic Congressional candidate Katrina Swett; and meeting with Democratic fundraisers in New York.

When asked if he would ever consider running for president as a Republican by Tim Russert on "Meet the Press," he said something along the lines of not being able to envision that scenario, as he has been so critical of the Bush administration's foreign policy. But as a Democrat? On that one, he did not give such a straight forward answer.

And if Clark proves willing to seek office as a Democrat, he can become quite an asset to the party of Jefferson. Can he win in the primary? Unlikely, with the current system favoring core party members with organizations in place and connections to fundraisers. But he would make a terrific vice president for almost any Democrat in the current field.

Clark has made the argument that Iraq is not our most pressing danger. Al- Qaida, North Korea and protecting the homeland are all losing attention and funding due to this folly foisted upon us by the current incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It doesn't mean Saddam isn't a bad guy. But he is not our most immediate danger.

Bush administration officials like to say this war in Iraq will cost $60 billion. If you believe that, then I have a ranch in Texas and a nice old bridge to Brooklyn over the East River to sell you. Before leaving the administration, economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey gave the more realistic figure of $100 billion-$200 billion. And that doesn't cover the years we will have to "nation build," that thing that the president attacked former President Clinton for doing during Bush's campaign for the Oval Office.

So where does that leave us? Any of the four or five most likely Democrats to get the nomination should put Clark on the ticket almost immediately after receiving the nomination, and let him have at the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld axis of inane foreign policy.

While the Democrat who ends up at the top of the ticket, be it Edwards, Kerry, Lieberman, Gephardt or Graham, could concentrate on pointing out the jobless Bush economy, private energy meetings with big oil and policy failures and dishonesties too numerous to mention here, Clark could be a homeland security/terrorism czar, systematically dismantling the reasoning behind the warmongering of the neoconservatives now in control of White House foreign policy.

This is not to say that any of these men should not spend much of the campaign addressing international issues themselves. Just that it would sure like nice having a general with his credentials up on the stage next to them. Some like to look at the Eisenhower analogy. I will offer another.

Besides having been in such a powerful position in NATO, General Clark is also a Rhodes Scholar from Arkansas. Does anybody remember what happened the last time we had one of those on the ticket?

(Cliff Schecter is a Democratic consultant and commentator. He holds a Masters in International Affairs from the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs.)

(Outside View commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers on subjects of public interest.)




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