Last week, over 30,000 of you from my list sent letters to Wesley Clark urging to him to run. And, hey, um -- it looks like it helped! He announced on Wednesday and by Sunday he was #1 in the Newsweek poll on the 10 Democratic candidates. By yesterday, according to the CNN/Time poll, he was nine points ahead of his nearest rival -- and three percentage points ahead of Bush if the election were held today.
But now the hard part begins. In my open letter to General Clark, while strongly encouraging him to run, I told him that I was not yet endorsing him -- I have no plans to endorse anyone at this point -- yet I thought his voice should be heard in this campaign. Why? Because I heard him say things that I think the American public needs to hear.
My wife and I were invited over to a neighbor's home 12 days ago where Clark told those gathered that certain people, acting on behalf of the Bush administration, called him immediately after the attacks on September 11th and asked him to go on TV to tell the country that Saddam Hussein was "involved" in the attacks. He asked them for proof, but they couldn't provide any. He refused their request.
Standing in that living room 12 nights ago, Clark continued to share more private conversations. In the months leading up the Iraq War, friends of his at the Pentagon -- high-ranking career military officers -- told him that the military brass did NOT want this war in Iraq, that it violated the Powell Doctrine of "start no war if you don't know what your exit strategy is." They KNEW we would be in this mess, and they asked the General, in his role now as a television commentator, to inform the American people of this folly. And, as best he could, that's what he did.
I don't know whether I am violating any confidence here, but I think all of you have a right to know these things -- and I left there that night convinced that this pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-affirmative action retired general should be in the debates so that the American people can hear what I heard. The public needs to see and hear what he's all about so we can make up our own minds about him. Now, thanks to all the encouragement you gave him to run, we will have a chance to do just that.
He may very well turn out to be much less than what we thought. Or he may be our best and greatest hope in removing George W. Bush. Whatever the outcome, let's all agree on one thing: There are enough Democrats running, this time around, who stand for most of the things that we stand for. We will not find ourselves having to choose between the "evil of two lessers" in the Democratic primaries. When we know more about each of them and the dust has settled, then we need to unite with each other to keep our eyes on the prize: Bush Removal in ?04.
But removal is not enough to turn our country around. We have to stay on these Democrats to do their jobs. We know from experience how spineless they can be. Our job is to keep pushing them to be more progressive in their actions and positions. And we need to continue to build independent, third party movements on the local level which will, in part, let them know that they do not automatically have us in their hip pocket.
That is why I am not endorsing anyone right now -- and I caution you not to throw your whole self behind any of them until they can state clearly what they are going to do on certain issues. If we give them our support before insisting they do this, what leverage will we have to mold them into the candidate we -- and not the political consultants -- want them to be?
For instance, I sat in a room with Howard Dean a couple of months ago and heard him say he supports the death penalty "in certain cases." He probably believes he needs to say this to get elected. What he needs to hear from us are the facts about how many innocent people have been released from death row, people who were about to be executed. We need to show Gov. Dean the right way to address this issue -- by calling for a moratorium on the death penalty until, if ever, this problem of potentially executing the innocent can be solved.
When I watched Howard Dean give his speech announcing his candidacy, he spoke for nearly a half hour. How many times did he say the word "Iraq"?
And he's supposed to be the anti-war candidate! Well, what I'm saying is, let's cut him some slack. He clearly has been against the war, even if he did fail to mention it (the #1 issue of the day) in his speech. We cannot be so quick to want to dismiss him or sink back into our cynicism of believing that all politicians suck. And when Dean says he wouldn't cut the Pentagon budget, he just needs to be educated. So the best way to support Dean right now is to let him know how you feel about these issues and that, if he wants your vote, he has to state clearly that he will cut the Pentagon budget and use that money for the things this country really needs.
Likewise, Clark's first 24 hours as a candidate resembled a Marx Brothers movie. His position on the war, depending on what paper you read, changed about six dozen times. Only one thing was clear -- this guy is not a professional politician! But then, isn't that a good thing? The press has complained that Clinton is secretly behind him. Both right and left wing pundits have roared over that one. Are they that out of touch with the average American that they don't recognize, when the word "Clinton" is mentioned these days, a wave of wistful nostalgia sweeps through a majority of Americans? As most of you know, I had many problems with Clinton, but I can at least realize that when Americans think "Clinton Era," they think of better days -- regardless of just how better they really were. So if you think that by "exposing" the Clinton connection to Clark is going to turn people off, think again. Every time it's reported, Clark's numbers go up.
But it seemed like on Day One of his campaign, General Clark was listening too much to the Arkansas politicos and not enough to his own heart. When you're a Rhodes Scholar (as he is), you have to hate others trying to turn your head into a bowl of spaghetti.
By the time Day Two rolled around, the general had heard from all of us (a big collective "WHAT THE F#@%?!" so to speak), and he straightened things out in an interview with the Associated Press. He said, without equivocation: "Let's make one thing real clear: I would never have voted for this war?. I've got a very consistent record on this. There was no imminent threat. This was not a case for preemptive war."
Now Clark will be in his first debate this Thursday. As the others have been campaigning and debating for months now, there is no way he will be up to their speed. He doesn't have to be. I hope he is just himself so we can see where he stands on many of the issues that he has yet to weigh in on (NAFTA, health care specifics, etc.).
The day Clark made his announcement, I was in the former Yugoslavia. Clark was the NATO commander during the Kosovo War. If you've seen my film ("Bowling for Columbine") you know that the bombing of civilians in Kosovo is something that bothers me to this day. That is why I put it in my movie. The 19 countries of NATO have yet to account for this decision to bomb in this way. The New York Times reported on Sunday that Clark wanted to use ground troops instead of relying on the bombing (less civilians would be killed that way). Clinton and Defense Secretary William Cohen overruled him. They didn't want to risk having any American casualties; they preferred the "clean" way of killing from 30,000 feet above. Clark, apparently to undermine them, went on TV and took his case to the American people. Cohen was furious and told him to "get your (bleeping) face" off the TV. He and the Pentagon then orchestrated his firing.
Years later, many analysts agree that the Kosovo War would have ended much sooner -- and fewer civilians would have been killed -- had the White House listened to Clark and let him use the ground troops to stop Milosevic's genocide of the people in Kosovo.
Is that the way it went? I'd like to know. And that's one reason why we have election campaigns -- so we can find out things like this. I hope someone asks General Clark the question.
What I do know is that the war we are in NOW is not called Kosovo, but Iraq. That is the war I am trying to stop. That is the war Clark says he will stop. If we have a former general, who may have done some things that some of us don't like -- but he is now offering to be an advocate for peace -- why would any of us want to reject this?
And who among the other candidates does not have blood on his hands? John Kerry? He killed people in Vietnam. Bob Graham? He executed people as governor of Florida. Howard Dean? He says he would have voted in favor of bombing Afghanistan (at least 3,000 civilians slaughtered) and he's already said he would execute people on death row. So would Edwards. Gephardt voted for both wars. Dennis Kucinich used to vote for laws restricting a woman's right to an abortion, potentially forcing women back to the alley and, for many of them, to certain death.
No one is innocent here. And yet, there is, in everyone, a chance for redemption. John Kerry bravely led the anti-war movement when he returned from Vietnam. Dennis Kucinich changed his position and now supports a woman's right to choose. Howard Dean (with Kucinich) stood alone against the Iraq War when it was not the popular thing to do. People change. If we don't accept this, we are never going to get rid of Bush.
We, the voters, have a job to do right now: Remain strong and steadfast in pushing these candidates to behave, straighten up, and do the right thing. There will be plenty of time to get behind the one candidate who is nominated to defeat Bush. What we should be doing now is making our voices heard so that we can influence them to take the right positions.
Back in February, Patrick Tyler of the New York Times wrote, "there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion." To paraphrase him, I would say that there are now actually ELEVEN campaigns running in this race -- those of the ten announced candidates, and OURS. Those 10 who are running are up against something mightier than any of their fellow candidates -- they must face OUR collective conscience and will. That will is a powerful force -- and we shouldn't give it up until we start hearing and seeing things from these candidates that we expect and demand.
So, Howard Dean, if you want my vote, promise me that you'll cut the Pentagon budget and call for a moratorium on the death penalty. Wesley Clark, if you want my vote, tell me how you'll guarantee health care to every single American and that, even though you're a hunter, you'll push for stronger gun control laws. Dennis Kucinich, if it were you vs. Bush today, I'd hope that you would have done the work needed to convince the majority of Americans to vote for you. Carol Moseley Braun, if the moderator at the debate on Thursday ignores you for the first 15 minutes (as George Stephanopoulos did back in the May debate), I hope you won't wait your turn and will just jump right in?we're long overdue for a woman President. And Al Sharpton, just keep being you and cutting through all the b.s. in these debates -- you produce the stinging laugh we all need right now.
Let the games begin, and let's all hope that the only loser in all of this is George W. Bush.
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