Well, I saw General Wesley Clark give a speech this morning in the East River Park, a fairly ordinary expanse of grass and groundcover and muddy baseball fields. That's probably as close as I've ever gotten to someone as famous as him, unless you think Oscar the Grouch is more famous. Hmm, I think Oscar the Grouch is
more famous. Okay, as politically famous.
It was a well-written speech, and he didn't stumble the way I was expecting based on others' reports. I still have to figure out how to crunch the numbers on his job creation plan, but basically it sounds like instead of diverting "Bush's tax cut" into health insurance like Gephardt, he wants to divert it into job creation programs, 40% of which will be creating Homeland Security type jobs. Even though that was the nominal reason for the speech, and the reason for the setting (across the river from a recently closed sugar factory), the real focus was his "New Patriotism." Slate's Will Saletan lists this as one of several stolen Kerry issues
, but I think Clark makes a good and specific claim to his version of it. He's not just espousing Kennedyesque (and now generic) ideals of service, he's specifically calling for the appreciation of dissent.
His supporters are certainly enthusiastic, though I can't compare them for number or intensity to, say, Dean supporters, since this is my first direct look at the campaign. One woman came from Queens:
"I said God, I gotta get there, I'm so crazy about that man. He's marvelous, he's our hope--[seeing me writing her words down]--glowing terms, anything you can say about him, I'll subscribe to."
The park was difficult to get to, the crowd of supporters was not obviously thick (you'd never know it from the photographs, and then again, I don't have direct experience to compare), Clark was positioned facing away from the morning sun, and no one knew if he had named a campaign manager yet. These could be troubling signs of disorganization or endearing signs of a campaign that really was drafted. We shall see.
A moment I would dearly have loved to have been fast enough to photograph, since my view from the side of all the action (as opposed to in it on one or another side) was probably the best:
As General Clark entered the park, the greeting press rushed backwards to film and photograph him, unwary of the mud behind them. Clark lurched forward, crying out, "Watch out for the mud!" just as a TV cameraman stepped ankle deep into an oozing ochre puddle.
George Stephanopoulos was there with a giant red DKNY bag, apparently as a member of the press, and he seemed annoyed with me for taking his picture. Speaking of Stephanopoulous, I'll have to look up his and others' accounts of the early days of the Clinton presidency. I asked one of the Clark representatives, a woman named Beatrice, about his opinion on gays in the military, and she said that he favored a British style policy of acceptance, but implemented in cooperation with the military leadership. While today's Joint Chiefs of Staff are very different from those of 10 years ago, it might be instructive to review the mechanics of Clinton's attempts in that arena, and see if time and experience can be on Clark's side in a similar situation.