- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

An army of political reporters is marshaling its most well-oiled military cliches to describe Wesley Clark’s march toward victory in the Democratic primary.

From the moment the retired four-star Army general announced his candidacy last month, it’s been cliches aweigh.

“Welcome aboard, sir,” wrote Time magazine. “Clark’s announcement that he was running landed like a rocket-propelled grenade in the messy bunker that is the Democratic presidential field.”

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel trumpeted an early visit thusly: “Plunging into his first full day on the campaign trail, retired Gen. Wesley Clark marched straight into South Florida on Thursday…”

Arnie Arneson, a Democratic radio host from New Hampshire, has spied plenty of the cliches.

“He’s changed the language of the debate,” she said. “We’re all going out to buy fatigues.”

But the cliches — amply dispatched by Mr. Clark himself — are more than just literary furlough for political reporters weary of political jargon, Mrs. Arneson said. There’s real political value in it for the retired four-star Army general.

“Democrats are so desperate to tell America that it’s not an oxymoron to be a Democrat and vote for a general,” she said. Party faithful are so eager to outflank Republicans in the 2004 presidential election on military and national security issues that they are willing to overlook weaknesses in the general.

“Don’t confuse me with the details,” Mrs. Arneson said, “just keep telling me he’s a general.”

There’s little threat of forgetting that detail.

When Mr. Clark got bogged down during in an interview about his position on the war in Iraq, according to the New York Post, “he called out for reinforcements to press secretary Mary Jacoby, yelling: ‘Mary, help!’”

The Los Angeles Times noted the same issue, reporting that, “Clark retreated back toward opposition Friday. …”

Mr. Clark rarely just “responds” to questions. He’s always pulling out a weapon of some sort as in the Associated Press account in which “Clark spokesman Mark Fabiani fired back. …”

Apparently, the general is pretty trigger-happy, too.

According to the New York Times, “He fired the other barrel of his attack at the handling of Iraq” during a speech to cadets at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.

Some reporters have even synchronized their watches to Mr. Clark’s time, as in an ABC News report: “At exactly 1700 hours, the general and his entourage made their way into the deli for what was his first campaign event — he shook hands, signed autographs, and thanked person after person for their support.”

One of the biggest quagmires of military cliches came in a column in The Washington Post last month by Harold Meyerson, who deployed no fewer than 13 military cliches in 13 paragraphs.

Early in the rolling barrage came this paragraph: “Whether Clark can sustain his initial momentum is anybody’s guess; his first week as a candidate was a triumphal parade interrupted by the occasional self-inflicted wound. But for now, many of the long-standing battlements that have divided the Democrats for decades seem to have crumbled before him.”

There are few situations, apparently, in which at least a faint military cliche isn’t worth calling up.

The Hill newspaper on Capitol Hill said recently: “Clark, like [Howard] Dean, is said to have an anger management problem, and apparently needs more basic training on keeping his cool during hostile interviews.”

The New York Times reported that “the emerging vice presidential field includes General Clark, who would fortify a Democratic ticket with a military uniform and a Southern background.”

In some cases, those being interviewed lob some cliches of their own, such as when Iowa activist Joe Shannahan was interviewed by the Associated Press on the day Mr. Clark launched his campaign.

“While General Clark has something to say, it’s going to take boots on the ground in Iowa to make a difference,” Mr. Shannahan said.

Mrs. Arneson, the radio host, marvels at the benefits of earning four stars.

“If you have the first name of ‘General,’ it opens more doors than you can imagine,” she said. “I think I’m going to name my children ‘General,’ ‘Colonel,’ and ‘Lieutenant.’”

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