You wanna be starting something, you got to be starting something.
The other night on the presidential debates, the always insightful and hard-hitting journalist/moderator Peter Jennings took his question stick to Democratic candidate Wes Clark, and hit hard with this hard-hitting, insightful question:
At one point, Mr. (Michael) Moore said, in front of you, that President Bush"he's saying he'd like to see you, the general, and President Bush, who he called a deserter. Now, that's a reckless charge not supported by the facts. And I was curious to know why you didn't contradict him, and whether or not you think it would've been a better example of ethical behavior to have done so.
Background: Apparently known liberal and award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore had made an inflammatory remark at a Clark rally -- while standing next to Clark " calling President Bush a deserter. This is in reference to Bush's highly irregular term of service in the Texas Air National Guard, an issue which was kinda sorta totally ignored in the 2000 elections. Clark did not comment at the time the remark was made
Clark responded by saying that he hadn't personally researched Moore's claim himself, and therefore did not know enough to comment; and that although he had heard other people make that claim, he wanted us, the viewers, to know that his candidacy was about the future, the issues, and for God's sake, the precious children, for they truly are our future. He also praised Michael Moore, saying that he was a brave guy, a patriot, and someone willing to stand up yadda yadda.
Now I do love me some Wes Clark (even though his hair is not nearly as bouncy nor as manageable as John Edwards'), but his answer was totally flaccid crap. Of course that's a stupid fucking question, one that has little or nothing to do with demonstrating an ability to lead the country better than Bush. Does he officially refute and express dismay at the remarks of a sloppily-dressed American filmmaker who doesn't like the President? Does he too believe the wild and totally unsubstantiated accusation that Bush was " gasp " absent without leave from the cushy-ass National Guard posting his politician father secured for him during Vietnam? WILL Wes Clark be the next one voted off the Island?
What the dear General needed to do was take control of the situation; instead, he choked up the the ahhh¦dog ate my homework class of answer that won't get you a zero but will definitely land you on the teacher's shit list. Jennings' insipid, sophomoric gotcha question, inspired by the previous afternoon's Washington Times headlines, was a perfect opportunity for General Wesley Clark to speak frankly about Bush's questionable military service record, and Clark dropped the ball. Dropped both balls, actually.
In a parallel universe, he might have said:
Well, first of all, I'd like to thank the insightful Peter Jennings for asking that hard-hitting question. ˜Deserter' is a very serious accusation, one with a very specific legal definition in the US military, so I'm not sure if this is true when speaking of President Bush's questionable attendance record in the Texas Air National Guard. I can't claim to know where Bush was back then, nor Dick Cheney, nor Paul Wolfowitz, nor Richard Perle; but I do know where I was, and where many other young men and women were who were not fortunate enough to get a sweet-ass National Guard assignment from their daddy: getting my ass shot to pieces for my country in Vietnam. Thanks for watching, I'm TV's General Wesley Clark.
Seriously. How could he not touch this one? I know it seems like conventional political wisdom to steer clear of the snarky rumor mill shit when you're in a TV interview or a debate, or to focus your bitterness on the dumb-assed interviewer for even asking those types of questions; but in order to convince the country that you are a better choice than the status quo, you need to apply painful verbal aikido to a fat, lazy press corps that is satisfied with focusing on the inane. You must always be on the offensive, and you better bring more than just talking points. You need to bring it like you're breakdancing for the Pope.
This is just another example of the painfully stupid strategy that the Democratic candidates have all been using, whether they mean to or not, this sort of treehouse strategy. Each candidate takes their greatest strength and makes a big defensive wall out of it to hide behind. With Kerry and Clark, it's their military record. Can't touch our patriotism, and we're awesome on defense! We're soldiers! Dean was against the war before it was cool, and he's got doctorly cred which hits it big with the growing sick and injured demographic. With Edwards, it's that sweet, sweet ass. And Joe Lieberman¦.can never be accused of criticizing the President or his policies in any meaningful way.
Now, having these types of insulation from criticism is great and all, but using your greatest strengths to play only defense (and monolithic defense, at that) is begging to be beaten, badly, in ways you don't expect. You gain no ground, you only break even at best.
Why not go on the offensive full-time? You don't always have to directly attack the other candidates in the primary in order to demonstrate that you're the most fit to lead the country.. Do you really need to hear pissing contests between the two military veteran candidates over who was more military, or who supports the troops more, or who hated Saddam first, instead of simply hearing them say something like, people say Democrats are bad on defense, don't support the troops, and are unpatriotic. OK, well, we look at this lineup of candidates, and there are two Vietnam veterans here tonight, both of whom were severely wounded in combat. Exactly zero of the Republicans we're running against can make that claim. We risked our lives for America, and can look the Joint Chiefs, our troops, and our nation in the eye when we ask them to do the same. Bush can not.
Buddy, presidential politics is all about the sword and not the shield, like a Park Road knife fight in Columbia Heights. Nobody ever won a fight simply by being able to absorb the most punches¦You're gonna get dinged up bad before you're done no matter what, no matter how bad-assed you are; but if you stab him worse than he stabs you, then you win. God dammit, candidates! Grow some fucking guts and start swinging for real already, before people start thinking about voting for fricking Nader again!!!