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Clark jumps in.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark is quite late in joining the field of nine Democratic presidential candidates, some of whom have been on the campaign trail for more than a year. That could be a blessing, as his entry brings a bit of star-power to the contest.

Clark - who served 34 years in the U.S. Army, including in Vietnam and as commander of NATO during the late-1990s Kosovo campaign - also brings a military and national security background to the Democratic side that perhaps only Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Vietnam veteran himself, can approximate.

If Clark were to secure the Democratic nomination, that extensive background in uniform would contrast sharply with President Bush's nondescript military experience in the National Guard. Depending on the course of events in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, his military background could give the general a clear advantage in the national and homeland security arena.

But Clark has weaknesses, too. He's never held any elective office, even in high school. While that might appeal to a lot of voters fed up with politics as usual, it weakens him in the areas of domestic policy. As Clark said Wednesday: "I'll do my best, but there will be a lot of things that I don't know right away." That sort of candor may in time turn out to be a plus for Clark. But he'll be expected to fill in the blanks in his responses soon.

Some Democrats are looking at Clark as a potential vice presidential candidate on another candidate's ticket. That seems unlikely. As a former four-star general, Clark doesn't come across as a No. 2 type of person.

For historical perspective, 10 former generals have become president of the United States. First and foremost of those was George Washington. He led the country to victory in the Revolutionary War, then retired to Mount Vernon, only to be lured back into public service as the nation's first president. The most recent ex-general to become president was Dwight Eisenhower, who led the Allies to victory in Europe in World War II and seven years after the war, in 1952, won the presidency. Others included William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor and Ulysses S. Grant. Generals have made some of the country's best presidents, and some of the worst.

Clark comes into the race relatively uncategorized politically - his party affiliation was uncertain until recently - but he has taken certain positions that should appeal to Democratic voters. He opposes Bush's tax cuts, for example, and he favors abortion rights and affirmative action, and opposes drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Wesley Clark adds a new dimension to the race for the Democratic nomination and, for that reason alone, his candidacy is to be welcomed. Much can still happen between now and the first primaries and caucuses early next year.
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Title Annotation:Ex-generals good presidents - and bad ones; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 18, 2003
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