Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 2003 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan 5764

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

MEMO TO THE GENERAL | Dear General Clark,

The little dip your poll numbers have taken since you first announced was probably to be expected as some of the new wore off. But I suspect there's something else going on:

When you first announced, hopes were kindled across the country. For here was another general, like Eisenhower, who could unite the country, rise above politics as usual and generally lift the level of public discourse.

Instead, too often you've been sounding a lot like the eight other dwarfs, as if you were trying to establish your credentials as a good Democrat by being more partisan than they. Forget it. Because (a) it can't be done, (b) you're not very good at it and (c) it's not a successful strategy.

Instead of raising the level of public discourse, which is the object of the game, you could wind up only muddying it. Nobody needs that. We're already enough of a talk-show nation.

You're in danger of running not for president of the United States but for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. There's a difference. It would be a mistake, maybe a fatal one for your campaign, if you were to turn into just another Democratic contender instead of a candidate apart. Keep your eyes on the prize.

There's got to be more to running for president than trying to out-Howard Dean Howard Dean. For what shall it profit a presidential candidate if he shall gain the nomination but lose the election?

All those clintonoids running your campaign are not a good sign. No wonder they've got you making snide remarks about the Bush-Gore election of 2000. Forget it. Who cares about all that now except the kind of partisans stuck in the past? Why join them there? You've got a future.

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Remember: You're running to unite the country, not settle a four-year-old grievance. Given a straightforward choice, Americans will vote for the future every time, not the past.

Maybe you need these apparatchiks in your campaign for their political savvy, but don't let them set the political or economic or intellectual tone of your campaign, let alone its moral or philosophic tone. Or voters will lose interest. As they may have begun to.

At the moment you're being criticized for having offered some praise for the administration when you thought it was doing a good job.

Instead of apologizing for such comments, or trying to dismiss them as meaningless, you should glory in them. They are proof of your ability to rise above knee-jerk partisanship. Your appeal is that you can achieve the kind of success this administration can't.

Much like General Eisenhower in 1952, you need to campaign not as just another reflexive aginner, someone whose only program is to reverse course and undo everything the present administration has done. Instead, your message should be that you can do it better. The American people are looking for a leader, not a heckler.

I don't know whether to sign this memo Frequent Critic or Old Admirer, having been both.

I thought you did a fine job, despite the disasters that are part of any war, when you were waging a successful and long overdue campaign against a genocidal dictator — no, not in Iraq, but in the Balkans. You waged that war, by the way, without the express approval of the United Nations and, along the way, infuriating some of the higher-ups in the Clinton administration.

And you paid the price. You were treated shabbily at that war's end. You had earned the country's gratitude; what you got was a good snubbing by a bunch of stumbling, indecisive bureaucrats in Washington. You had returned with your victory, or as close to it as modern political wars allow, but not to a victor's reception.

These days the country can barely see that General Clark in this new Candidate Clark, who balks at money for reconstructing Iraq, retails conspiracy theories to the editors of Rolling Stone and confuses the United Nations — the United Nations! — with some kind of high font of political, legal and moral authority.

At times like this I miss the old General Clark; he was a realist.

This country needs two responsible leaders to choose from when all the hurly-burly of the primaries is done and the election campaign begins in earnest. Just as the country did in another highly divisive election year when Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson faced off in 1952, and gave America a choice between two outstanding presidential candidates.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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