Jewish World Review Jan. 19, 2004 / 25 Teves, 5764
"Old style politics"has gotta go?
In Wesley Clark's opinion, "old style
politics" has got to go. "Old style politics" is
Clark's defensive response every time someone
asks him to reconcile two conflicting statements
he's made often within hours of each other. It
means holding candidates accountable for what
they said. It's what New Hampshire does best,
but it's dismaying the former general. That is, the
former praiser of Republicans, who conveniently
switched allegiances in time to run for the
Democratic Presidential nomination.
Like when Clark criticizes President Bush for
invading Iraq, and we voters come back and ask,
"But in October, 2002, you said, 'Certainly there's
a connection between Iraq and al Qaida,' So didn't we do the right thing in Iraq, even if
we haven't found weapons yet?" Clark doesn't feel the need to answer that, because
we're engaging in old style politics, which I guess is akin to a "dirty trick" in Clark's
For the rest of us, holding a candidate accountable for previous statements
especially recent ones is just exercising our right to vote with care. Get up close to a
candidate, ask him questions, listen carefully to his answers, see if he can think on his
feet without handlers. The New Hampshire primary, with its close proximity to national
candidates and a skeptical electorate that doesn't obediently swallow a candidate's
talking points, epitomizes old style politics, in the best sense of the phrase.
So when Clark visits The Union Leader in New Hampshire and tells the editors he doesn't believe in an
abortion litmus test for judges, and then phones the newspaper later and says he'd
never appoint a pro-life judge, of course Granite Staters are going to wonder: "What
about what you said earlier?" That's old style politics, too. Dirty tricks. A smear. Bad,
When he began campaigning, Clark said he probably would have voted for the
Congressional resolution to attack Iraq. The very next day he retracted that. Why?
Silence! No more old style politics! He told another New Hampshire newspaper that
"(I)f I'm President of the United States, I'm going to take care of the American people.
We are not going to have one of these (terrorist) incidents."
But the next day he readjusted himself again: "Nobody can guarantee anything in life,"
The media and voters are starting to catch on that Clark either doesn't mean what he
says the first time or doesn't mean what he says the second time. All that matters is
giving the right sound bite to the right audience, and if the truth changes on an
audience-by-audience basis, so be it. I guess that's "new style politics," which is
supposed to be better than old style politics. I'm confused. I'd say the general's the one
who's confused, but that would be bad old me again, engaging in old style politics.
Nasty smears; dirty tricks.
I'm sorry for being recalcitrant, but it's hard to feel comfortable with all Clark's back and
forth, yes and no, "Don't-you-dare-question-my-inconsistencies" approach to
leadership. His biggest asset is his experience as a general, but I can't imagine him
winning the admiration of his troops if he behaved like this. It makes me think long and
hard about what the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said about Clark: He
was dismissed from the Balkans as NATO commander because of "integrity and
character" issues. Clark dismisses those comments from Gen. Hugh Shelton because
the North Carolinian and former chairman serves as an adviser to John Edwards, the
North Carolina senator also running for the Democratic nomination.
So we shouldn't believe Gen. Shelton because he's involved in an opponent's political
campaign. But Gen. Clark, you're involved in your own political campaign, so why
should we believe you? Oops, old style politics again. Dirty tricks. Nasty smears.
Comment on JWR contributor Bernadette Malone's column by clicking here.
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© 2003, Bernadette Malone