- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

There is nothing new in American generals running for president. Since George Washington and Andrew Jackson, eight other generals have been elected president. But there is a huge difference between Gen. Wesley Clark’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination and the contemporary history of two other generals who were, willingly or unwillingly, involved in presidential politics.

The difference between past and present is that Mr. Clark came out of nowhere; there was no constituency pressing him to run as there was for Gen. Dwight Eisenhower who did run or for Gen. Colin Powell, who might have won the Republican nomination in 1996 but who chose not to try.

Princeton Professor Fred Greenstein, a noted presidential historian, in a New York Times interview put his finger on the Clark problem: “He’s got a record that makes him seem potentially like an Eisenhower or a Powell rather than a Schwarzkopf or Patton or one of these people who don’t have mainstream appeal.”

But, he added, there is no coherent narrative of Mr. Clark’s life story. Mr. Clark’s biographical details, including that of NATO commander, are there, but they don’t add to anything unusual as in the case of Eisenhower, who made D-Day 1944 the beginning of victory over the Nazis and later was commander of NATO. And, of course, in May 1948, Eisenhower had been president of Columbia University.

Even more significantly Eisenhower had enthusiastic constituencies in both major parties. In fact, Democratic Party leaders and liberals pressed Eisenhower in 1948 to replace President Truman as the Democratic presidential candidate against the GOP’s New York Gov. Thomas E. Dewey. Truman was regarded as a sure loser since the GOP had won both houses of Congress in the 1946 midterm elections.

So a conspiracy among Democratic Party leaders was hatched in spring 1948 to substitute Eisenhower for Truman, on the assumption Eisenhower was a Democrat which, of course, he was not. But the Democrats refused to believe Eisenhower when he told them in no uncertain terms he would not accept a Democratic nomination.

One Democratic leader, Chicago boss Jake Arvey, went off the deep end by announcing, without a shred of evidence, that the general “comes closest to representing the ideals of the Democratic Party.” The liberal Americans for Democratic Action endorsed the general without knowing anything about his ideas, his political views on front-burner issues at the time like the Taft-Hartley law, civil rights, taxes. When asked how he could be for a man without knowing anything about his political ideas, one liberal leader replied:

“It makes no difference. All I know are two things: first, we have to beat Dewey and, second, Eisenhower beat Hitler. What else is there to know?”

Irwin Ross whose book, “The Loneliest Campaign,” is about the 1948 presidential campaign, wrote:

“Victory is a prize all politicians cherish but what was so entertaining about the unrequited Democratic passion for Eisenhower in 1948 was that it was shared by so many liberals who normally claim to value principle above power.”

There was no crowded field for Eisenhower in 1948, let alone 1952 when he ran on the Republican ticket as there is for Mr. Clark. Nobody really knew whether Mr. Clark was a Democrat or Republican until he announced himself as a Democratic candidate last September. Until then it might have been correctly assumed he was a Republican since two years earlier he had helped raise funds for local Republican candidates in Arkansas and, according to newspaper reports, had been the featured speaker at a local Republican event.

Obviously, Mr. Clark had no alternative but to declare himself a Democrat since President Bush was sure to be renominated in 2004.

Colin Powell might have run in the 1992 primary against the incumbent President Bush Sr. whose domestic policies were disastrous. Mr. Powell had a great record — chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under two presidents, two tours in Vietnam, lots of medals. But he chose not to be a candidate, even though he could have found widespread support in the electorate because he had a constituency that crossed party lines.

Mr. Clark has a fine military record. But anyone who watched the interview with civilian Wesley Clark on the PBS’ “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” Oct. 30 would have wondered why he was running.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.


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