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Lessons In Politics For Gen. Clark

Dotty Lynch is the Senior Political Editor for CBS News.

To: General Clark
From: Lee Atwater
Re: You Need Help Fast

You might not have heard since you've been playing TV General for the past few months, but now that I've passed to the other side I've been assigned to help the Democratic candidates in 2004 as a penance for all those Willie Horton ads and smart-aleck comments about folks using jumper cables to cure depression.

And judging from some of the reports of the first few days of your campaign, you need Bad Boy Lee's crash course in Presidential Politicking 101.

Someone just handed me a few of the "Clarkisms" which were reported by the Political Hotline, which might not be Stars and Stripes but it's something everyone in politics reads every day.

  • "At the time, I probably would have voted for it, but I think that's too simple a question" – Clark, to reporters on the Iraq resolution, 9/18.
  • "I don't know if I would have or not. I've said it both ways, because when you get into this, what happens is you have to put yourself in a position. On balance, I probably would have voted for it." – Clark, still speaking to the reporters, 9/18.
  • "Mary, help!" – Clark, to press secretary Mary Jacoby, "as he faced questions about Iraq" in the same 9/18 conversation (New York Times, 9/19).
  • "That having been said, I was against the war as it emerged because there was no reason to start it when we did. We could have waited" – Clark, again to reporters 9/18 (Washington Post, 9/19).
  • "Let's make one thing real clear: I would never have voted for this war. I've gotten a very consistent record on this" – Clark to AP, before a speech in Iowa, 9/19.
  • "I'm a soldier. I know what war is like" – Clark (Des Moines Register, 9/19).
  • "What I would have voted for is leverage. Leverage for the United States to avoid a war. That's what we needed to avoid a war" – Clark, still in Iowa, 9/19.
  • "Now this is an Iowa breakfast!" – Clark receiving an egg-white omelet, (New York Times, 9/20).
  • "That's a real Iowa outfit!" – Clark, to a woman wearing overalls (New York Times, 9/20).
  • "Some of my best friends from the military are from Iowa." – Clark (New York Times, 9/20).
  • "I promised I wasn't going to take a strong position." – Clark, asked about the death penalty (Miami Herald, 9/19).
  • "It's not like the election's tomorrow." – Clark, on not taking positions on certain issues (Miami Herald, 9/19).
  • "There are prime ministers I don't know and there are economic facts I don't know, and I'll get stuff wrong. Everybody does." – Clark, on this week's debate (Boston Globe, 9/19).
  • "I have no idea where I am. I am so confused right now." – Clark to his aides "as he searched for a route back to his hotel room" in Iowa City (Daily Iowan, 9/19).

    Ok. There is one, and only one, of these worth repeating: "I'm a soldier. I know what war is like."

    First Lesson: Never, ever trust a political reporter. Ok, you were on CNN and for years have dealt with those foreign affairs correspondents. But we're talking now about political reporters. These guys have been running around Iowa and New Hampshire for the past year taking John Edwards' 2nd district coordinator, John Kerry's guitar teacher and Dick Gephardt's hairdresser out to lunch and dinner and suddenly you whoosh in and all those names in the Palm Pilot go out the window. They're not going to give a guy a break to a guy who's spent the past year pulling in $35,000 a speech and gets on CNN whenever he wants.

    Second Lesson: Drop the Clintons. Not publicly, privately. There's nothing you can do about the connection. Little Rock means Doe's Eat Place, Gennifer Flowers and Billary. Look at where the drumbeat about the Clinton ties is coming from: Those no-good political reporters who want a new story to write, and Bill Safire and the Republican right. Nothing you can do will stop the GOP. They are very worried about you ("on paper") and the Clinton connection is their best hope of smearing you with Republicans and independents. Democratic primary voters love Bill and Hill.

    Where you need to drop the Clintons, especially him, is on the phone. Do not give him your private number; do not take his calls to offer advice. He'll drive you nuts phoning at three in the morning. He's a genius at political strategy for himself but he'll have you parsing words even more than you did this weekend.

    Third Lesson: Stop talking about the past. You're stuck on the record with that pro-resolution statement from 2002. Move On. Throw a bombshell. Start calling for Rummy to resign. No, demand that he resign. Start your Internet folks on that trail You know that he screwed up, and so does Bush. He needs a scapegoat and might even take your advice. And you can show off that military expertise, something none of the other candidates can come close to matching.

    Fourth Lesson: Stop Calling Karl Rove. He's my protégé and as long as you have me you don't need Karl.

    That's enough for now. You have to get busy studying for that debate on Thursday. You're in the spotlight right now and the hazing is going to get heavy. But I'm by your side and I'm not going away.

    By Dotty Lynch

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