The Importance of Wesley Clark

We’ve been hearing a lot about John Adams these days. All my Yankee friends who read books have enjoyed the HBO show, the David McCullough biography and the recent PBS series. But as one born and reared in New England, I’ve always preferred Thomas Jefferson.

Especially these days. As his father early on compared them to the father and son Adams presidents, I’ve long thought that George W. Bush modeled — or more likely imagined — his presidency after Adams, the second president of the United States.

What was troubling was the ease and confidence with which Bush would move forward on issues that were sometimes illegal and unconstitutional and duplicitous. The one historical perspective that resonates is the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts by Adams, which stripped the public of civil rights and removed the constitutional basis for public life. Jefferson, the visionary who alone perceived the dangerous potentialities ahead when he signed on with the likes of Adams and Hamilton, felt Adams had destroyed his vision of a burgeoning American republic at its infancy and began to set a separate path for Virginia and the South.

Bush has always had the glowing and innocent self-confidence of one who has never really been successful at anything. Perhaps he felt that like Adams, he could not break the law because as president, he was above the law, and like Nixon, if he did, someone would come along later and pardon him. Someone would mop it up later. They always had.

In any event, he knew — and he was right in this — that if the current state of the republic is characteristic, over time people would prefer hagiography to history when crimes, malice and misdemeanors were suggested. The people would remember that the president wrote daily to his charming wife or spent the idle hours cutting brush in the Texas bush.

Since Bush came to office we have lived in a shadow world of deception and duplicity. We still don’t know the origins. We need to know. Our fate and future as American citizens depends on it.

In one of his recent books, Wesley Clark said that he had heard rumors of the Iraq invasion long before the attack. Many of us did. In fact, at one point it was quite obvious that the Bush administration was going to invade and that the tragic terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 had little to do with it. Before we go any further, let’s get back to the beginnings of this. Let’s have televised exploratory hearings. Let them be vast and if necessary let them last years and let them begin now.

Not to get all judgmental, but for myself, I’d like to see something a little less touchy-feely than the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and something more akin to the McCarthy Hearings. Or better still, something like France’s war crime trials of the legendary and folkloric Vichy Swine, which took Time’s Man of the Year in 1931, Pierre Laval, and left him vomiting before a firing squad in 1945.

The Iraq war and foreign policy are now secondary. What is at stake here is the soul of America. How did Americans allow this to happen? We can blame the weakling courts, the Congress of Peeps and the appeasing and collaborating press for Gitmo, torture, the repeal of habeas corpus and this phony invasion, but up to 75 percent of Americans originally endorsed the invasion in a national fit of war fever. People may be tired of the war today, but Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush will be back soon, either as VP candidates for John McCain or as presidential candidates in 2012, to restore the Bush vision. Because what Bush has done is call for the establishment of an entirely new point of view in the American condition — one at stark variance with our constitutional beginnings — and the next step is to institutionalize it.

This is where I see Gen. Clark as important. You cannot abdicate your principles during the time of need then go back to them after the moral crisis has passed. If you do, they are not principles — they are talismans. The Iraq war was evidence that we as Americans are no longer guided by republican government and its principles. Like Sarko and the new Euro Bush Souls, we are collaborators.

We need to be redeemed. And we need to redeem ourselves.

It is in human nature to justify our failings. But little wars lead to bigger wars shortly after as they empower the citizenry to fight. The Mexican War led to the Civil War. World War I empowered Hitler and Germany to move again in the 1930s. We are now in the gulf between wars, perhaps, waiting for Mitt Romney to fulfill Bush’s great vision in the Middle East.

I saw only Wesley Clark as standing out in opposition at the very beginning. Others, like Howard Dean, opposed, but it is one thing when a northern New England governor opposes — we oppose everything — and quite another when a general with the status of Wesley Clark does. Clark was often alone in his opposition, but he brought forth a force of patriotic character in opposition that elected officials could rally around. Then by the ’06 elections, there was Clark and there was Jim Webb (D), the senator from Virginia, and the will of Congress and the people began to turn on the initiative of these two warrior-scholars and a sea change occurred.

We will need them again and perhaps now we will need them always in public life until we get our bearings back.

Up here in the Vermont region people have bumper stickers with the date of Bush's last day in office: 01.20.09. But you can't do that; you can't let them take it from you and just wait till it passes. If you do, it won't pass. You have empowered the bully and he will be back.

President Obama needs a bulldog. He needs someone who in his person represents us and our best instincts in our tradition. He needs someone who represents us as fair-minded and compassionate and patriotic and resolute in our opposition. Someone like Webb who brought a shrill voice to opposition when no one would listen; someone like Wes Clark who came back from Vietnam in a basket without complaint, hubris or public display.

Obama needs someone who can face the difficult tasks ahead with clarity and without bitterness or recriminations. Because this isn’t over. It is just beginning.