The Magazine

Richard Cohen, Clark, MoDo, and more.

Feb 2, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 20
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Clark Blindsided by Baptists

On Monday, January 19, while everyone else was staring the other way--at the Iowa caucuses, to be precise--an amusing and unjustly neglected event played itself out in South Carolina, which holds a primary of its own February 3. Wesley Clark came to Columbia, the state capital, to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, appearing first at a prayer service at the Zion Baptist Church, then addressing a crowd on the statehouse grounds. Clark's speech was nothing much ("Dr. King! Dr. Martin Luther King. Happy Birthday to you, sir!" was the climax), but the prayer service was a doozy.

Guest preacher was an "evangelist anointed by Our Lord"--Dr. Sheila B. Koger, formidable pastor of Columbia's Bethlehem Baptist Church, who favors white satin robes, complete with surplice, and emphatic earrings. With Wes Clark sitting in the second row among a line of elected officials, Dr. Koger began her sermon with a conventional tribute to King, then took an unexpected turn.

"Everyone says these days, 'Give me rights,'" Dr. Koger said. "'Give the gay people rights,' they say." Dr. Koger's voice rose: "But the Lord God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. If you're a man, then be a man, not a woman!" Half of the congregation was on its feet before too long, shouting approval.

"Now if you're not sure which you are, you can just ask yourself a simple question: 'Do I have a womb?' If you ain't got a womb, then you're a man. And you better act like one."

There were multiple shouts of "Tell it!"

"They told me I could preach the Gospel unadulterated, so that's God's word, not mine," Dr. Koger went on. "He is a God of decency and order, and he ain't going to bless no mess!"

At the start of Dr. Koger's sermon Clark set his face in the rictal smile that is traditional for white politicians who find themselves in black churches. But as she took her detour into gay marriage the candidate turned to a man next to him and appeared to make small talk--here I am, just another four-star general trying to mind my own business. . . .

Later in the morning he made a point to tell reporters that "he didn't support those views." Indeed, he said, he opposes discrimination of all kinds. And don't we all? But suddenly he must have realized that the supposedly monolithic "African-American community" might be more complicated than his fellow Democrats tell him it is.

Tom Harkin's Comeuppance

Yes, THE SCRAPBOOK lapped up Howard Dean's "I Have a Scream" oratory after the Iowa caucuses. But our favorite part came before The Howl, before the litany of states, even before the very deliberate rolling up of the Dean sleeves. Unfortunately not preserved on many of the video loops now circulating was the delicious preliminary scene, when Dean removed his jacket and handed it to a hapless Tom Harkin, treating the self-proclaimed "900 pound gorilla" of Iowa politics, the state's senior senator, as a lowly valet.

It must have been the final indignity for Harkin, whose oh-so-prudently timed endorsement of Dean (after Gore, before the collapse) had just blown up in his face. Or maybe it was unconscious payback by Dean to the man who once mistakenly referred to him as "John Dean" twice in the same set of remarks. We liked Des Moines Register columnist John Carlson's summation best: "Dean took off his coat, and, incredibly, handed it to Harkin. Then he started with the screaming.

"Harkin stood behind him, with one of those 'Oh, my God, what have I done?' panicky smiles on his face. He stepped toward Dean once, then dropped back, apparently not wanting to get too close.

"Who can blame him?"

Pulling Rank

Wesley Clark deserved all the grief he got last week for his ostentatious reminder that he and John Kerry had both been decorated veterans but that "with all due respect, he's a lieutenant and I'm a general." The best rejoinder came in the Hotline's "Last Call" on Friday, following the death of children's TV star Bob Keeshan: "A rival campaign aide asks: 'If Wesley Clark makes a statement eulogizing the late Captain Kangaroo, will he mention that he outranked him?'"

Mr. Know-it-all

Few columnists have devoted as much ink to links between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as the Washington Post's Richard Cohen. Since the debate on the Iraq war began in earnest in the summer of 2002, he has written about Iraq-al Qaeda ties 18 times by our count (not that there's anything wrong with that; we're in double figures ourselves). Cohen's not buying.