Ross Mackenzie

In the beginning, they all waited for Alpha Al Gore to carry the banner once more - such a candidate was he, so close had he come, such a race had he run. Now they are 10, and Hillary has yet to declare.

Over the summer, all eyes were on the fading John Kerry and the surging Howard Dean - Joe Lieberman, Gore's 2000 running-mate and the only moderate in the Democratic field, probably having maxed out at 12 percent or so, rendering him "un-nominatable" in the party of self-righteous leftism.

Interest now focuses on Dean, Lieberman perhaps, Kerry perhaps, and the sudden Wesley Clark - surrogate for the Clintons. Within days he was sharing the lead in New Hampshire and running nationally - if you can stand it - ahead of President Bush.

What of Clark?

One-time Republican: Notes the intellectually lame Kerry, "While Clark was voting for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, I was fighting against both of their policies." Arkansan Rhodes Scholar, like you-know-who - and, also like said you-know-who, four-star egotist (NOT retired). Had his fourth star delayed for cowboy antics in Bosnia, and retired prematurely from the Balkan fray.

Says retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, Clinton's principal chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flabbergasted by Clark's sudden emergence and seeming viability: "I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."

He's a "nouveau arrive" on the landscape, so he's getting a lot of ink a la John McCain four years ago. He's a former general, rare among Democrats, and thereby supposedly negates Bush's massive advantage on security issues. And, he says, he has "been against the war (in Iraq) from the beginning. I never saw the imminent threat in Iraq, and I think the president failed to really make the case of the imminent threat. I think the facts on the ground show there wasn't an imminent threat."

Ah, yes, the Saddamite albatross around the Bushian neck.

That puts him at odds with practically every prominent Democrat: Most supported taking out Saddam, though most now - for transparently political reasons - are playing the "Where Are the WMDs?" game.

Clark's seeming strength testifies to nothing so much as the weakness of the Democratic field, where anyone with just 14-percent strength in the polls will put any joker in the lead.

His chances? Dubes: Of the 12 generals who have served as president, only one - Dwight D. Eisenhower - served in the 20th century, and Clark is no Eisenhower.

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.

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