Jewish World Review Jan. 19, 2004 / 25 Teves, 5764

Bernadette Malone

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"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 mind.

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, voters, 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," he said.

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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