I met Wesley Clark, now a presidential candidate, in 1992 when I was an army lieutenant attending the Officer Basic Course. The then-2 star general came to Ft. Knox, KY to address our graduating class.
General Clark was charismatic, personable and gave a motivating speech.
The Wes Clark I became acquainted with, however, was the general’s son, a classmate in the course (and a heck of a good guy). He was the reason why a group of junior officers in a rather ordinary army school landed such a notable guest speaker.
After getting to know Wes a little better– several of us got stationed in Colorado together– I remember telling some relatives about a guy I knew whose dad might be president someday.
I don’t recall exactly what gave me that idea; Wes never mentioned his father having any political aspirations. But he did seem to think his dad’s stellar background (#1 in his West Point class, Rhodes scholar) and rapid rise through the ranks well positioned him to eventually be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. So I guess I figured that the job that put Colin Powell in the limelight and marked him as presidential material might do the same for the dashing and articulate Clark. (Turns out he never became Chairman, but that seems not to have hindered him.)
In the ensuing years, I’d now and then see the photogenic general on TV, 3 stars on his shoulders, then 4; then he was NATO commander. And I began to wonder if my lofty prediction might actually come true.
Of course, it’s a big leap from soldier to politician. Even after Clark traded in his uniform for a suit and was getting face-time on CNN (as military analyst), it surprised me that he made that leap this election cycle and as a Democrat.
Some, including party rivals, accuse him of opportunism; they say that since it’d be virtually impossible to beat Bush for the Republican nomination, Clark simply morphed into a Democrat. Indeed, the retired general had to try and explain away not only why he’d so often voted Republican– including for liberals’ nemesis, Ronald Reagan– but also why he’d attended a GOP fundraiser where he praised George W.
Not the stuff from which Democratic credentials are made.
Frankly, when candidate Clark first opened his mouth, I couldn’t believe how much he already sounded like a real politician– contradictory, wishy-washy and unprincipled. He was all over the board.
So it does make one wonder. Were a Democrat currently in the White House, would we see a Republican Wesley Clark vying for the GOP nod? Your guess is as good as mine.
Perhaps the stars went from his shoulders to his eyes and being president is more important to him than being consistent (not that there’s a huge difference between the two parties these days).
In any case, I won’t be voting for my old friend’s dad, because I disagree with about everything I’ve heard him say. The last thing this country needs is another unprincipled politician– or one with wrong principles.
So I hope my prediction from 12 years ago is false.