Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2003/ 25 Elul, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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Wesley Clark may actually think he's running for president | Caught between Isabel and Hillary, Wesley Clark, who may actually think he's running for president, finally made his debut on the national political scene, and a soggy day it was.

Isabel was actually not much of a storm, but enough rain got to Washington yesterday to shut down the government (never a bad thing), rout Congress and send the president abandoning the White House, which looks substantial enough, and fleeing to the Catoctin Mountains in search of a bed big enough to crawl under.

Washington hadn't seen anything like the Great Hurricane Panic of aught-three since Dennis Hastert, Dick Gephardt and their colleagues abandoned the Capitol, pushing women, children, the halt, the blind and the lame out of the way in the wake of the Great Anthrax Epidemic of '01. (That's the epidemic that eventually killed a half-dozen of 290 million Americans).

A little wind and rain was all the stand-up comics of television "news," unable to entertain two thoughts on one day, could shriek about all day yesterday and into the sodden night, terrifying millions, paralyzing thousands and encouraging a run on the toilet-paper inventory of supermarkets from Cape Fear north to Assawoman Island.

With everyone here obsessed with wind and rain, Mr. Clark tried to make the best of his big day in Little Rock, with a clutch of old Clinton hands and even a homegrown movie star (Mary Steenburgen) lending litter if not glitter. His aides first wanted to stage it at the birthplace of Douglas MacArthur, further enhancing the khaki aura of their candidate, but when the superintendent of MacArthur Park said the city would charge $200 the announcement was moved elsewhere. Then everything was spoiled by a late-summer rainstorm a thousand miles away.

Hurricane Hillary is a more powerful storm entirely. Bill Clinton, whose fingerprints have been all over the Clark boomlet for weeks, finally said what anyone paying attention in Arkansas has known since midsummer, that Bill is itching to get her into the presidential hustings this season, not next.

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Mr. Clark is a novice in politics and hasn't yet learned the difference between the machinations of professionals and the flattery of amateurs. He was impressed by the number of "hits" on several Draft-Clark Internet sites, not understanding that these were mostly from computer geeks and nerds with more time on their hands than smarts in the belfry. This flattery made him susceptible to the cunning of the Clintons, who need cover for Hillary to overcome the public's remembrance of the Clinton loathing of the military. With Clark covering her ample flanks, Hillary could concentrate on massaging the pent-up Democratic anger in the blue states.

The latest Hillary speculation was set off by what appeared to be an off-hand answer to a question in California about the Hillary chatter. But nothing is ever uncalculated by Bill Clinton. "That's really a decision for her to make," he said. Then he added, as if an afterthought: "She's being urged by supporters in spite of her commitment to serve out her six-year Senate term."

This was a reprise to the question posed to him in Little Rock in late 1991, not long after he gave a similar ironclad promise to serve out his term as the newly re-elected governor of Arkansas. Left to his own desires, he would have gladly kept his promise. But what could an honorable man do but listen to vox populi.

The Clinton clatterati who flocked to Little Rock to give Mr. Clark a send-off are clearly in on the game plan. Leon Panetta, Mr. Clinton's chief of staff, agreed that the decision is one for Hillary to make (who could doubt it?), and said, helpfully, that "she's got a lot of people talking." John Catsimatidis, a New York supermarket maven and Clinton fund-raiser, went a little farther: "It will depend on how badly George W. does in the polls." He was among those called to the Clinton residence in Westchester County the other day to talk about Hillary's re-election campaign two years hence, and all anyone talked about was Hillary's campaign next year.

The polls suggest that Hillary, who has the highest negatives in the history of American politics, would lap the Democratic field twice but couldn't beat George W. even with Mr. Clark as her running mate. But there are a lot of angry Democrats in the blue states nursing the bitter remembrance of Florida.

And what if a Clinton beats a Bush again? There's Jeb, the eager younger brother who would be waiting in Florida to redeem the family honor in the rubber match in '08. The good news is that Chelsea won't be eligible until 2016.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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