Ah, Rome

Owen Byrne owen at permafrost.net
Wed Oct 22 23:19:52 PDT 2003

Wesley Clark seems to be turning the empire meme to his advantage. The 
French (!) APC story - well - mythology or fact  - but very Kennedy-esque.
"Clark's followers feel attuned to something far more epic. In the story 
they see unfolding, America is at a low point in its history, threatened 
from without and plundered from within, led by a smug and reckless 
mediocrity who blithely aids the nation's implosion. Patriotic moderates 
hear themselves denounced as traitors and despair that the country has 
entered a period of inexorable decline"

And...and... Karl Rove's obsession with NASCAR dads must be ratcheting up...
"While Clark receives more support than Dean among both men and women, 
his margin over Dean among women is just 3 points (16 percent to 13 
percent), but an impressive 12 points among men (29 percent to 17 
percent)," Teixeira points out. "He also beats Dean in every region of 
the country, but especially in the South (25 percent to 8 percent). Also 
intriguing is how well he does among low income voters (less than 
$20,000), clobbering Dean by 26 percent to 5 percent. In fact, Clark 
bests Dean in every income group up to $75,000. Above $75,000, Dean 
edges Clark, 26 percent to 25 percent."

Feeling pretty chuffed that the Democrats seem to have the best  
scenario for producing a really good candidate - 2 strong candidates and 
probably a dark horse (Kerry) to keep them honest.

The general and his ground troops
Howard Dean is not the only Democratic candidate who has inspired an 
army of followers. Wes Clark's ranks are growing, and they include Bush 

- - - - - - - - - - - -
*By Michelle Goldberg*


Oct. 23, 2003  |  Since she found Gen. Wesley Clark, Beatrice Moritz, a 
Manhattan photographer, has stopped hating George Bush. She's taking 
down the full-page MoveOn.org ad she'd taped to her wall, with its 
scowling picture of the president labeled "Misleader." Before becoming a 
Clark volunteer, she'd spent months seething, becoming obsessed with 
photographing those who were "speaking back" to Bush with their signs at 
protest marches, incredulous about the nation's acquiescence to an 
administration that seemed to her so self-evidently awful. Then Clark 
turned it all around.

"Now I feel like I have an alternative because Wesley Clark, he's going 
to win," she says. "It makes me feel that I'm not going to waste my 
energy thinking about all the bad things Bush has done. I don't hate 
Bush as a person. I went through a period of that, but I'm more focused 
now on the very positive experience of supporting a candidate who's a 
real president, and I know it's not just me. I feel it."

It's not just her. After a month in the Democratic primary race, Clark's 
professional campaign, based in Little Rock, Ark., is just starting to 
coalesce, but his grass-roots movement, tens of thousands of ardent 
supporters and volunteers nationwide, is already large and expanding 
rapidly. Numerically, Clark's ground troops are not yet any match for 
Dean's, but if his momentum continues, they may be soon. In May, there 
were only a few hundred people registered to attend Clark events through 
the Internet organizing site MeetUp.com. <http://www.meetup.com> Now 
he's second only to Howard Dean on the site, with 40,100 people 
registered. (Dean, who pioneered the use of MeetUp as a campaign tool, 
has 124,800 people signed up.) And even if his followers are fewer than 
Dean's, they're just as fanatical. Clark is igniting a desperate hope in 
supporters, something they describe in the language of love and 
religion. He can save us, they say. Over and over, they use the same 
phrase: "He's the one."

Many of Clark's followers say that while Dean speaks to their rage, 
Clark, four-star general, intellectual, humanitarian and war hero, 
speaks to their longing for something higher. "He's obviously the best 
man at this time in history," says Alexandra Richards, a New Jersey 
stay-at-home mother with a 2-year-old child and an unemployed husband. 
Figuring that their economic prospects are unlikely to improve as long 
as Bush is in office, Richards and her husband are considering selling 
their house and moving to Clark's home base in Little Rock to volunteer 
for the campaign full-time. "Dean makes me angry about the present," 
Richards writes in an e-mail. "Clark, on the other hand, gives me HOPE 
for the future. Hope feels better than anger."

Richards, like several other Clark supporters, was a Deanie until the 
general entered the race. There's no statistical evidence showing that 
Dean's supporters are peeling off in favor of Clark, but anecdotes 
abound. "Dean has a whole year on this guy, but I can tell you this, the 
Dean supporters I know, I've suggested that they watch Clark," says 
Christopher Dale, a 34-year-old San Diego public relations executive. 
"When they have checked him out, he's won all of them over."

Dale, an independent who says he's never been involved politically, 
recently gave Clark $100 and plans to volunteer for his campaign. 
"There's something about this guy," he says. "I just think he's the 
perfect antidote to what's going on in this country."

For Clark, it will still be an arduous process to translate this passion 
into an effective campaign organization. Recent American history is 
littered with candidates who won over devoted legions of citizens, whose 
races turned into causes, and who then lost to better-funded if 
less-inspired rivals. Donnie Fowler, who recently quit as Clark's 
campaign director, says he's seen the kind of energy Clark has generated 
before, in the Jesse Jackson campaigns in 1984 and 1988, and in John 
McCain's race in 2000. It was there "with Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and 
we saw it with Eugene McCarthy in the '70s. It's not unique to Wesley 
Clark, but it's unusual and it is refreshing," he says.

Then he adds, "Did I list a bunch of people who didn't become president? 
I did."

Clark is hindered by a late start, forcing him to give up even trying to 
compete in the Democratic Iowa caucuses in January, where winning 
requires an intricate ground-level organization and lots of face time 
with the state's citizenry. The political press was unimpressed by his 
first few weeks on the trail, where he blundered while trying to answer 
simple policy questions. Even more negative coverage followed Fowler's 
departure on Oct. 7, which suggested that Clark's Little Rock operation 
was not yet working smoothly. Fowler was said to be angry that the 
professional political operatives on the Clark team were freezing out 
the Draft Clark activists who laid the campaign's groundwork, though 
there was also speculation that he left because he was about to be demoted.

Meanwhile, a few Clark volunteers have publicly blasted the more 
conventional direction the campaign has taken. Stirling Newberry, an 
intense Massachusetts computer programmer who runs the Web site 
DraftClark.com, <http://www.draftclark.com> remains devoted to Clark and 
discourses fervently on his virtues, but felt betrayed as the campaign 
haltingly transformed itself from an insurgency into a more traditional 
political operation. The day Fowler left, Newberry published an open 
letter to the Clark campaign saying, "By the time you read these words, 
the bell will be tolling for Wesley Clark's candidacy. It will be clear 
across the country that the campaign of Wesley Clark is nothing more 
than the Gore campaign with a better candidate -- this will mean that 
activists, the people who can create a field organization that can win 
Iowa and New Hampshire, will know that this campaign is nothing more 
than a media creation."

Even now, the campaign doesn't have much of a presence in New Hampshire, 
an important early primary state. "They haven't announced any leaders 
for the campaign here in New Hampshire," says Michael Dennehy, who ran 
Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign in New Hampshire and New 
England. "That's campaign 101. If you come up here and make an 
announcement but cannot follow that up with some endorsement 
announcements, that is very strange to me. Either they're not running 
the campaign they should be, or they're struggling to find these people 
to support him, or a combination of the two."

According to Fowler, the problem is organization, not enthusiasm. 
"Wesley Clark hasn't had two years of recruiting foot soldiers," he 
says. "He has to rely on this committed band of partisans in an 
irregular army."

Yet those partisans' commitment is uncommonly fierce, and in a crowded 
field, that matters. "A movement is a very important ingredient in this 
cycle because these candidates are not well known," says Donna Brazile, 
Al Gore's former campaign manager. Brazile, a loyal Democrat who has 
decided to sit out the primary fight, says, "The establishment has not 
blessed any one person. Therefore, because the race is wide open, having 
a movement will be an asset. Right now, the only two campaigns that 
exhibit that are the Dean campaign and the Clark campaign. Dean created 
a movement, Clark was started by one."

Indeed, as is well known by now, before Clark entered the race, groups 
of grass-roots volunteers spent months building a Draft Clark movement, 
securing pledges of donations if the general ran and creating a rough 
campaign infrastructure.

Before Clark announced his candidacy on Sept. 17, there were reports 
that former President Bill Clinton was encouraging him, suggesting to 
many that Clark was being imposed on the party from above. When he 
bungled his first day on the trail, one insider quoted by ABC's 
political weblog "The Note" blamed the party's leadership, saying, "Why 
did my party's best operatives think it would be a good idea to subject 
their neophyte candidate to the country's savviest reporters for over an 
hour? Why have my party's elders rallied around a candidate who is so 
shockingly uninformed about core issues and his own positions?"

Yet to Clark's grass-roots supporters, all this is Beltway ephemera. On 
Oct. 14, there was a Clark fundraiser for young professionals at Coda, a 
plush midtown Manhattan nightclub full of red velvet and gold 
chandeliers. The minimum ticket price was $50. MTV's Gideon Yago was 
there doing interviews, and there was an anticipatory frisson in the 
crowd more reminiscent of rock concerts than political rallies. Clark 
was ill, but he took the stage anyway, hoarse and beaming, as the crowd 
cheered, "Wesley! Wesley!"

Right away, he alluded to the kinks in his Little Rock operation, saying 
"We're building this ship as we sail out from the harbor." He urged his 
followers not to pay too much attention to stories about campaign 
mechanics. "That's just process," he said. "What matters is message."

That message is getting through, at least to Clark's growing corps of 
true believers. The Clark camp has its own grand narrative of the 
campaign, in which its candidate transcends the triviality of 
contemporary politics. Jaded Washington journalists often judge 
candidates by their ability to navigate the semiotic minefield of the 
press's own obsessive scrutiny. In her 1988 essay "Insider Baseball," 
Joan Didion described the default attitude of most campaign chroniclers: 
"They speak of a candidate's 'performance,' by which they usually mean 
his skill at circumventing questions, not as citizens but as 
professional insiders, attuned to signals pitched beyond the range of 
normal hearing."

Clark's followers feel attuned to something far more epic. In the story 
they see unfolding, America is at a low point in its history, threatened 
from without and plundered from within, led by a smug and reckless 
mediocrity who blithely aids the nation's implosion. Patriotic moderates 
hear themselves denounced as traitors and despair that the country has 
entered a period of inexorable decline.

And then, just when it seems that American greatness has spent itself, 
into the breach comes a war hero, brilliant and brave, with a Silver 
Star and a Purple Heart. Joe Hlinko, a founder of the Draft Clark 
movement who's since joined Clark's campaign staff, says, "He's the 
president we were promised as children," a phrase much quoted among 
Clark's fans.

Ironically, Clark's appeal is due in large part to the same thing that 
propped up President Bush's staggering presidency: 9/11. Four years ago, 
a retired general might not have seemed such a dream candidate, but 
right now, says Samuel Popkin, professor of political science at the 
University of California at San Diego and a former Clinton advisor, 
people feel "a real threat in the world."

"You look for different things in a president when there are different 
things in the air," Popkin says. "When all you wanted was a president 
who could spend your money, a lot more people were eligible for the 
office than when you want a president who can protect your life. You 
would never have been able to get a Bill Clinton during the Cold War. 
The feeling is that you need a war president, someone who is comfortable 
managing and handling force and aggression."

Clark fills that bill -- which comes as a pleasant, even euphoric 
surprise to Democrats accustomed to being pushed around like 97-pound 
weaklings by chest-pounding GOP musclemen. Popkin points out that 
historically, the perception of Democrats as weak on national security 
is a new phenomenon: It started with George McGovern and was exacerbated 
by the Iran hostage crisis during the Carter administration. "It used to 
be, we had Roosevelt and Kennedy," says Popkin. "The missile gap was 
wimpy Republicans getting pushed around by fast-on-their-feet Russians. 
Once upon a time, most policemen were Democrats. During World War II, it 
was Roosevelt who wanted to make it easier for the military to vote."

And while there may be nothing historically analogous between Clark and 
Kennedy, much less Franklin Roosevelt, he still seems like a link to a 
time of muscular Democratic greatness. The general -- first in his class 
at West Point, Rhodes scholar, four-star general, commander of the NATO 
forces in Europe -- stands for excellence, says Newberry. "Bush," he 
says, "is the antithesis of excellence."

Indeed, Clark's followers circulate stories of his exploits -- and the 
fact that Clark himself hesitates to tell them only stokes their 
devotion. Tom Junod's awed August Esquire profile has become an ur-text 
of the campaign. Junod writes of how, in August 1995, Clark was on his 
way to Sarajevo with Ambassador Richard Holbrooke when an armored 
personnel carrier in their convoy plunged off a mountain road.

"In his book, the general describes what happened this way: 'At the end 
of the first week we had a tragic accident on Mount Igman, near 
Sarajevo. [Three members of the team] were killed when the French 
armored personnel carrier in which they were riding broke through the 
shoulder of the road and tumbled several hundred meters down a steep 
hillside,'" Junod writes.

"It is not until one reads Holbrooke's book, 'To End a War,' that one 
finds out that after the APC went off the road, Clark grabbed a rope, 
anchored it to a tree stump, and rappelled down the mountainside after 
it," Junod continues, "despite the gunfire that the explosion of the APC 
set off, despite the warnings that the mountainside was heavily mined, 
despite the rain and the mud, and despite Holbrooke yelling that he 
couldn't go."

Whether or not Clark's modesty is conscious, it's an essential part of 
his persona. At the Oct. 14 fundraiser, he spoke of the draft movement 
and the support for his emerging campaign, saying, "I know it's not 
personal. It's about changing American leadership."

He quoted a "friend" -- a former Arkansas governor -- who told him, 
"Politics is a blood sport. If you can live without it and sleep at 
night, don't do it." Then Clark said, "But I can't live without it and 
sleep at night looking at where this country is going."

Clark's campaign slogan, "A New American Patriotism," may seem like a 
cheap bit of electoral banality, but it resonates with followers who 
embrace the white-knight story his campaign has generated about itself. 
To the general's devotees, Clark summons up images of Franklin Delano 
Roosevelt, reviving an exhausted, dispirited nation during the 
Depression. "We like calling General Clark the 'Real Deal,'" says 
Alexandra Richards. "FDR was the New Deal, Truman was the Fair Deal, and 
Bush is the raw deal."

Both Clark and Bush appeal to something nostalgic in their supporters, 
says Newberry, who studies Clark like a rabbi obsessing over the Talmud. 
"Five hundred years ago Machiavelli said, 'No republic will long endure 
unless it refreshes itself at the wellspring of its creation.' 
Eisenhower said, 'We look forward with nostalgia.' But just as there is 
always a forward-looking kind of love of tradition, there's always going 
to be jingoism, reactionary sentiment and reactionary fervor." To 
Newberry, of course, Clark represents the former, Bush the latter.

Clark stirs something even in people who usually don't fall for mawkish 
campaign rhetoric. On Oct. 14, Harold Bloom, the venerable Yale 
humanities professor, cultural conservative and defender of the Western 
canon, published a remarkable encomium to Clark in the Wall Street 
Journal's ordinarily right-wing editorial page with the portentous title 
"Cometh the Hour." In it, he references Edmund Gibbons "The Decline and 
Fall of the Roman Empire," and writes, "It is not at all clear whether 
we are already in decline: bread is still available for most and 
circuses for all. Still, there are troubling omens, economic and 
diplomatic, and a hint or two from Gibbon may be of considerable use ... 
We need, at just this time, a military personage as president, one who 
is more in the mode of Dwight Eisenhower than of Ulysses Grant. In 
Wesley Clark, we have a four-star general and former NATO commander who 
is a diplomatic unifier, an authentic hero, wise and compassionate. That 
Gen. Clark saved tens of thousands of Muslim lives in Bosnia and Kosovo 
is irrefutable, despite current deprecations by worried supporters of 
the president. They are accurate only in their anxieties."

Most of Clark's supporters aren't so articulate, but all seem to be 
tapping into a similar spirit. "It's sentimental and hokey, but it's 
real," says Mia Tran of the optimism Clark arouses. Tran, a 28-year-old 
graphic designer from Brooklyn, N.Y., who'd never donated money to a 
political candidate before, had paid to attend Clark's Manhattan 
fundraiser. The day before, she'd attended a Wes Clark MeetUp in a 
Brooklyn bar with around 50 others.

Before Clark joined the race, Tran looked at Dean, but he didn't inspire 
her. "He can't maintain his cool," she said. "The Dean thing, a lot of 
it is about negative sentiment and anger."

Indeed, while it's often said that Dean might alienate independents and 
moderate Republicans with his rage, according to Clark's supporters, he 
turns off some liberal Democrats, too. "I'm all for getting people riled 
up, but I don't want an angry president," says Allyn Brooks-LaSure, a 
25-year-old Clark volunteer from Washington, D.C. "I want a president 
who is presidential. I want a president who can get mad and can harness 
that energy into forward-thinking policies for all Americans."

Many Clark supporters are grateful for Dean's steadfast bravery in 
challenging the president on Iraq when few others were willing, and they 
appreciate his pugnacity, but they find him exhausting and can't imagine 
him charming those who disagree with him. "The thing about Dean, a lot 
of people could find him unreasonable and a bit shrill," says Moritz. 
"He reminds me a lot of the guys I marched with during the antiwar 
marches. You want to listen to what they're saying, it's invigorating, 
but you also know they are turning off a lot of people by their intensity."

Dean promises to fight back against the right's vicious partisanship. 
Clark's supporters see their man as someone who can transcend it. 
"Dean's rhetoric is not appealing to people who want a healing of the 
government, a healing of the American people from all this partisan 
warfare," says Richards. "I give a lot of credit to Dean for raising the 
alarm about Iraq, but in order to be elected president, you have to have 
some sort of credibility with all Americans, not just angry white 

According to Ruy Teixeira, co-author of "The Emerging Democratic 
Majority," Clark's followers are right to suppose that their man's 
appeal is demographically broader than Dean's. In a post on the Emerging 
Democratic Majority blog, he analyzes an October Gallup poll to discern 
"The Demographics of Clarkism":

"While Clark receives more support than Dean among both men and women, 
his margin over Dean among women is just 3 points (16 percent to 13 
percent), but an impressive 12 points among men (29 percent to 17 
percent)," Teixeira points out. "He also beats Dean in every region of 
the country, but especially in the South (25 percent to 8 percent). Also 
intriguing is how well he does among low income voters (less than 
$20,000), clobbering Dean by 26 percent to 5 percent. In fact, Clark 
bests Dean in every income group up to $75,000. Above $75,000, Dean 
edges Clark, 26 percent to 25 percent."

Furthermore, unlike Dean, Clark seems to have significant support from 
black voters. He's been treated gently by Al Sharpton and endorsed by 
Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y. "When Charlie Rangel speaks up for somebody 
like General Clark, it speaks volumes in the black community," says 

Brooks-LaSure, an African-American who plans to work on communicating 
Clark's message to black communities nationwide, points out that when 
Dean spoke at a black church in South Carolina, the audience was 
primarily white. Clark, he insists, will appeal to black voters. "The 
general's experience growing up in Little Rock, and then in the 
military, where they boast of having more African-Americans in positions 
of management and leadership than any other organization in the world, 
you can tell [working with black people] is not something new for him," 
Brooks-LaSure says.

Finally, Clark has support among a constituency that doesn't relate to 
Dean at all -- those who think that Bush is a basically decent man who's 
doing a bad job as president.

At Coda, there was a large contingent of besuited Wall Street types, the 
kind of people for whom "frat boy" isn't a damning epithet. What make 
them so different from Deanies wasn't their clothes, though -- Dean's 
movement is certainly not lacking in yuppies. It was their near-total 
absence of Bush hatred, an absence unusual anywhere in Manhattan and 
almost unheard of at Democratic events.

A 34-year-old who works for a hedge fund says, "Bush could be doing a 
better job, but he could be doing a worse job." One 25-year-old 
investment banker in a blue suit and gray tie says his support for Bush 
"ebbs and flows," and though he thinks the administration's 
unilateralism has harmed America's prestige, he believes the president 
was acting in good faith. Strident attacks on Bush's legitimacy, the 
kind that thrill the Democrat's activist base, don't excite him. "I 
don't want to vote for a candidate because I loathe the opposition," he 

Standing off to the side of the room, Nicomodos Sy Herrera, a 
31-year-old Republican lawyer in a well-tailored suit, seemed almost 
surprised to find himself at a Democratic event. A pro-life hawk who'd 
been "a big Bush supporter" in 2000, he'd grown alarmed by Bush's 
inability to "balance the hard and soft power of the U.S." Now, he was 
considering changing his party affiliation in order to vote for Clark in 
the primary. "Bush was seduced too much by the hard right's insistence 
that it had to go alone," he says. "He made that bed, he has to sleep in 
it." Still, while he says he doesn't think Bush could win him back, he 
also says Clark is the only Democrat he would support.

"Those are exactly the kind of people you want," Teixeira says of these 
Clark fans. "The people who hate Bush 24/7, those voters are not the 
Democrats' problem. The Democrats' problem are the people who say, 
'Goddamn it, he did a pretty good job after 9/11, but he's really doing 
a lousy job now.' That's the sweet spot. Those are the voters you're 
going to need to get in droves."

Clark's ability to appeal to these voters is, in turn, attracting 
pragmatic Democrats who are looking for a winner, not a hero. "The kind 
of people I tend to talk to by and large tend to have been skeptical of 
the Dean candidacy while respecting its energy," says Teixeira. "They're 
worried to death about whether Dean can actually beat Bush. These people 
are very interested in Clark. We need the guy who's best able to beat 
Bush. I think he's probably the guy."

Yet part of the reason Teixeira thinks Clark can beat Bush is precisely 
because he has such zealous supporters. "You don't need to have a 
movement to get elected president, but you need a movement to get 
elected president if you're a Democrat in this situation," he says.

Besides, some of those first attracted to Clark for reasons of 
realpolitik find themselves becoming converts to the movement. Moritz 
says one of the reasons she initially liked Clark is because she thought 
he could win over people like her Republican father, himself an Army 

Now, she says, "It feels like we're on a rocket that's talking on more 
and more passengers and people are really energized. Everybody finds him 
so exciting. We're not doing this just because we want to get somebody 
else in the White House. Every single person I know who is involved in 
helping General Clark really, really believes in him."

Fowler is a little bit wry about the adoration his former boss is 
generating. "The beginning of a love affair is always the most exciting 
part," he says. "Sometimes the love affair lives up to its promise. 
Sometimes it doesn't."

For now, though, Clark's followers are smitten, and after three years of 
hate, they say, it feels good to be in love.

More information about the FoRK mailing list