HOWARD DEAN'S BELLOWING the roll call of the states on Monday night may capture the weird sweepstakes this election season, but Wesley Clark can't be counted out just yet. Most of the cameras were in Iowa while the general tromped around the Granite State, but the record he left is promising when it comes to snap potential.
Rick Lowry had a tape recorder on when Clark delivered some choice words on faith and the president's patriotism, and was kind enough to send the tape along to me for broadcast. Here are the money quotes:
Clark as Martin Luther: "What we've got in this country is one political party that, if you listen to them, you'd think they were connected to the Lord God Almighty with a telephone line. They're always talking about religion and so forth. But you know the other party, our party, is not like that. See what I saw about religion in every religion that I have studied and been part of works like this. They all agree on one thing. That if you're more favored in life, if you've been luckier, if you've had more advantages, then you should help the people who are less favored in life and have less advantages. There's only one party that lives that faith in America, and that's our party, the Democratic party, and that's why I'm proud to be a Democrat."
Put aside Clark's crackpot theology and ask yourself what is he really saying here: That you can't be a Republican and be a devout person? And since he brought up the charity business, can we get a look at those tax returns please?
Then there's the attack on President Bush. Recall that Democrats and their boosters like Jonathan Chait at the New Republic justify "Bush hatred" in part because the president supposedly countenances attacks on Democrats' patriotism. Such attacks have never occurred, of course, but the rhetoric is a staple of the unhinged Bush crowd.
So here's Clark: "But I don't think it is patriotic to put on a flight suit and prance around on the deck of an aircraft carrier looking for a photo-op. We have a president of the United States who did not do his duty to take care of America. If you're patriotic, you do your duty. That's the duty of the president of the United States--to take care of the country. He didn't do everything he should have done before 9/11."
Now that we have an actual impugning of patriotism by a major public figure, the outrage merchants are busy elsewhere.
No matter. Questioning the patriotism of the president or the religious sincerity of every Republican in the country are just evidences of a bedrock unsuitability to lead a country even in peacetime, much less in wartime.
WHAT HAPPENED TO DEAN in Iowa is that his trail of outrageous overstatement and personality tics caught up with him. Now Clark gets the spotlight, and the very same quirks get a national audience. They don't play well, not even among the hardcore activists, who can hear the creepy "Twilight Zone" music playing when they talk. John Kerry is long in tooth and face, but he's not given to nutty outbursts.
In 2004, that may be the best the Democrats can hope for.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard. His new book, In, But Not Of, has just been published by Thomas Nelson.