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January 18, 2004: Presidential Hopefuls - The Winnowing Fan

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Monday in Iowa (today as some of you read this) they'll have those caucuses and the nomination for which of the eight Democrats gets to run against Bush will be up for grabs.  I wont count the ninth nominal Democrat with ambitions - Lyndon LaRouche - as I've commented here on him.  Not a player.

All the candidates have their strengths and weaknesses.  But it seems now that, realistically, it will come down to Howard Dean or Wesley Clark.  I really like that Edwards fellow, and Kucinich holds positions with which I do agree, and Sharpton is a good man.  But matters are coming to a head.  And Carol Moseley Braun has dropped out and endorsed Dean. 

Dean has his fine endorsements - Gore, Harkin, Bradley and probably Jimmy Carter this week or next.  These are mainstream guys now behind Dean. 


But Michael Moore of the "angry left" - from Bowling for Columbine to Stupid White Men - has endorsed Clark.  What's with that?

This is probably a matter of character.  Or of perceived character. 

As a disclaimer, in June of 1990 I found myself at West Point, attending the graduation of my nephew Brian, and was surrounded by honorable young folks in uniform, excruciatingly polite and formal, but seriously idealistic.  They took that "duty, honor, country" stuff seriously.  And they were impressive.  Good young men and women out to do their best for us all.  Some of the best people our country has. 

Maybe I'm not a good lefty - I'm a sucker for decency and honor.  And I saw that. 

And this is, I suspect, what people see in Clark, or hope to see. 

And I suspect people find those traits, decency and honor, absent in George Bush. 

Here's how one fellow sums it up. 

See Karl Rove's Nightmare
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, Thursday, January 15, 2004; Page A21


Of all the other Democratic presidential contenders, only John Kerry has the military credentials to challenge Bush.  But being a wounded and decorated Vietnam vet is not the same as being both that and a retired four-star general.  Anyway, Kerry is easily caricatured as a Massachusetts liberal. 

Not so Clark.  He is a "duty, honor, country" guy - the West Point mantra he recites constantly.  His themes are patriotism and leadership, and his credentials are unimpeachable.  He was wounded in Vietnam.  He rose to command NATO and made war in the Balkans.  Four invisible stars glitter from his shoulders. 

Wes Clark does not like what George Bush has done with Wes Clark's Army.  Make no mistake: It's his Army.  He can hardly go a sentence without mentioning the military - and how, in his mind, Bush has abused it.  He sent it to war precipitously and then used its men and women as "props," he says.  Clark's sincerity on this point is patent.  In a conversation on his campaign plane, he suddenly turned intense, a kind of growling, low-grade rage that lifted my nose from my note-taking.  His Army has been abused.


Yes, there is something to this, and it has to do with honor, and loyalty to your fellows. 

Cohen then makes an odd comparison to the former war prisoner and decorated flier:


In a way, Clark is this season's John McCain.  ... His themes are similar, too, but where McCain ran to the left of Bush, Clark runs to the right of the Democratic field.  That assessment has nothing to do with his actual positions, some of which are downright liberal - he has no problem with civil unions or marriage for gays, for instance - but rather with his military record and his Southern roots.


Ah yes, a new definition of the political right.  Here right means something about doing the right thing. 

So, does Clark have a chance?


Maybe.  Maybe not. 


But Clark has a way to go.  When he talks about patriotism, leadership, the military and his own remarkable life, he can be moving and persuasive.  But when he gets into domestic programs, you hear a "voice mail" recitation - no passion, little inflection and often a comparison to some military program, as if the Army is just civilian life with worse food.  He lacks the politician's ability to morph with his audience. 

Still, the Clark I saw in New Hampshire and Texas has come a long way from the Clark I saw months ago.  At the earlier event, people fell asleep.  No more.  On his campaign plane, he seemed relaxed - and so, importantly, did his staff.  I could dig up only one story about him losing his temper, but it was not recent and not important.  You and I should be as disciplined.


Yes, and he doesn't bad-mouth his fellow Democrats.  He's got better things to do.  Fix things. 

Cohen ends with this image:


At the fundraiser here, Clark stood before a huge American flag like George C.  Scott in "Patton."  And when he talked about Bush and the war in Iraq, it was not as some Democrat who could be caricatured as a peacenik, but as a warrior who felt that the president had fought the wrong war at the wrong time - and then pranced all over a flight deck reserved for Clark's genuine heroes, "the men and women who serve."

Karl Rove, call your office.


Yep, this could get real interesting. 

Bush shouldn't have gone AWOL back in those Vietnam days. 

The general should ask about that: "Soldier, where were you?"




A reaction to this from Phillip Raines


Those on the left of left don't want a military man in charge period.  Don't trust a soldier, they're all killers.  Hmmm.  I'm not so sure.  The fact that he has been sequestered from the civilian world all his adult life is a serious point.  He is also a bad dresser, or at least his taste in sweaters is questionable.  I worry Dean's head is swimming from this assault of his peers.  His feistiness could short-circuit and his handlers are not as cagey as Dubya's.  It's funny Michael Moore endorsed Clark.  Didn't see that coming, though the angle of the best bet to beat Bush has an allure. 


To which I replied:


As I said, I'm not a good lefty.  I have too much respect for honest military folks doing their best, and there are many.  There are honorable men and women in uniform.  Really.  I've met them. 


And of course I also have too much respect for honest police folks, doing their best, and there are many of those, even out here in Los Angeles, Rodney King land.  I know a few of them too.  One of the hardest jobs there is. 


In an odd way, both groups are like good teachers - people who choose to work in public service because it's the right thing to do.  It might make the world better. 


But yes, there are bully teachers, and useless loser wimps too.  And there are power-mad, stupid cops.  And generals who seem to have stepped out of Doctor Strangeglove. 


But then again, there are the good guys.  Once shouldn't forget them.  They hold things together for us.  And the pay stinks.


This came to mind:



A.E. Housman (1860-1936)


These, in the day when heaven was falling,

The hour when earths foundations fled,

Followd their mercenary calling

And took their wages and are dead.


Their shoulders held the sky suspended;

They stood, and earths foundations stay;

What God abandond, these defended,

And saved the sum of things for pay.


And my friend Bonnie, who was always far more left than me, sent this from Boston:


I'm not surprised to learn you have encountered military folks whom you like and respect, whom you find to be decent people.   Me too.  A young friend who did six years in the Navy, for one.  Along the same lines, I became professionally friendly with a cop (whoda thunk it!?!?), the juvenile officer of the city where I work with juvenile delinquents, so to speak.  A tall, sandy haired Irish guy with a big moustache who wants the same thing for the kids I do.  To stay out of trouble.  A decent fellow, hard working and underpaid.  The longer I live with eyes wide open, the more porous the boundaries in all those categories and causal connections I made as a youngster become.


So if the boundaries are now more porous should we on the left have The General speak for us?  Michael Moore says so. 


Maybe so.





About the title? 
Think Homer.  This from the Odyssey when Odysseus visits the underworld - the oar with which you row is really a winnowing fan:


'Anon came the soul of Theban Teiresias, with a golden sceptre in his hand, and he knew me and spake unto me: "Son of Laertes, of the seed of Zeus, Odysseus of many devices, what seekest thou NOW, wretched man, wherefore hast thou left the sunlight and come hither to behold the dead and a land desolate of joy? Nay, hold off from the ditch and draw back thy sharp sword, that I may drink of the blood and tell thee sooth."

'So spake he and I put up my silver-studded sword into the sheath, and when he had drunk the dark blood, even then did the noble seer speak unto me, saying: "Thou art asking of thy sweet returning, great Odysseus, but that will the god make hard for thee; for methinks thou shalt not pass unheeded by the Shaker of the Earth, who hath laid up wrath in his heart against thee, for rage at the blinding of his dear son.  Yet even so, through many troubles, ye may come home, if thou wilt restrain thy spirit and the spirit of thy men so soon as thou shalt bring thy well-wrought ship nigh to the isle Thrinacia, fleeing the sea of violet blue, when ye find the herds of Helios grazing and his brave flocks, of Helios who overseeth all and overheareth all things.  If thou doest these no hurt, being heedful of thy return, so may ye yet reach Ithaca, albeit in evil case.  But if thou hurtest them, I foreshow ruin for thy ship and for thy men, and even though thou shalt thyself escape, late shalt thou return in evil plight, with the loss of all thy company, on board the ship of strangers, and thou shalt find sorrows in thy house, even proud men that devour thy living, while they woo thy godlike wife and offer the gifts of wooing.  Yet I tell thee, on thy coming thou shalt avenge their violence.  But when thou hast slain the wooers in thy halls, whether by guile, or openly with the edge of the sword, thereafter go thy way, taking with thee a shapen oar, till thou shalt come to such men as know not the sea, neither eat meat savoured with salt; yea, nor have they knowledge of ships of purple cheek, nor shapen oars which serve for wings to ships.  And I will give thee a most manifest token, which cannot escape thee.  In the day when another wayfarer shall meet thee and say that thou hast a winnowing fan on thy stout shoulder, even then make fast thy shapen oar in the earth and do goodly sacrifice to the lord Poseidon, even with a ram and a bull and a boar, the mate of swine, and depart for home and offer holy hecatombs to the deathless gods that keep the wide heaven, to each in order due.  And from the sea shall thine own death come, the gentlest death that may be, which shall end thee foredone with smooth old age, and the folk shall dwell happily around thee.  This that I say is sooth."


As seers go, Teiresias can be a windbag.  But winnowing fan is used to separate the wheat from the chaff.