Some of us can vaguely remember a time when Wesley Clark was going to be the next Eisenhower - a general above the fray, a former supreme commander of NATO who had met the great challenges of his time, someone who would Bring Us Together, lift the tone of national politics, a champion of unity above the usual divisive politics, The Nation's Hope, and all the rest of the nominating speech.
But that was long ago in another country, and, besides, that Wesley Clark is no more - if he was ever real. His appeal as a presidential candidate peaked the moment he announced back in 2003, if not before, and it steadily deteriorated with every roundhouse swing he took and missed. Sad.
The general's big mistake? Instead of proving a different kind of candidate, he became just another partisan of the louder, less enduring sort. Instead of remaining above the fray, he waded into the muddy thick of it. Instead of bringing us together, he seemed intent on driving us further apart. Soon his was just one more rasping voice in the off-key chorus of presidential also-rans.
Now he's down there among the Michael Moore/Bill O'Reilly bottom-feeders. Impervious to the lessons of his last failed campaign, General Clark is now fighting it out in a kind of two-falls-out-of-three exhibition match against Rush Limbaugh. That's right: El Rushbo himself, The Mouth, the idol of the dittoheads; in short, the very personification of high-decibel, low-fact talk radio.
Not only is General Clark taking the Rush on, he's adopted The Mouth's vociferous style. Maybe it'll get him a job in the next Clinton administration - the kind of slot reserved for the hacks who do the dirty work in a presidential campaign.
Rush Limbaugh's style may be the essence of vulgarity, but even the vulgar can be smeared. It happened this way: On his Morning Update, a kind of daily communique for true believers, Mr. Limbaugh had gone after one Jesse MacBeth, one of those celebrated anti-war soldiers who turned out to be anti-factual. (It's a wonder The New Republic didn't sign him up as a regular contributor, a la its fact-challenged Scott Thomas Beauchamp.)
But leave it to El Rushbo to tell the story in his own imitable style: "Recently Jesse MacBeth, the poster boy for the anti-war left, had his day in court. He was sentenced to five months in jail (and) three years' probation for falsifying a Department of Veterans Affairs claim; his Army discharge record, too. Yes, Jesse MacBeth was in the Army. Briefly. Fourty-four days. Before he washed out of boot camp. MacBeth is not an Army Ranger; he is not a corporal; he never won the Purple Heart; he was never in combat to witness the horrors he claimed to have seen."