Enter Wesley Clark

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The recent announcement by retired general Wesley Clark that he will seek the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States has been met with the usual media fanfare reserved for military people who enter politics: A new Savior has been born. While there was no band of angels singing "Glory to God in the Highest" to shepherds watching over their flocks by night, a number of other people have hailed the new candidacy of Clark as the coming of the Messiah and have been hastening to bow down in awe, reverence, and outright worship.

Granted, there have been a few exceptions. One writer noted that Clark’s entrance into the Democratic field improved that group just as his retirement from the U.S. Armed Forces also improved that organization’s status. No doubt, there are a number of Serbian civilians who lost loved ones during the vicious Clark-led bombing of Serbia a few years ago that would prefer him to retire to Florida — or anywhere — as opposed to seeking to grab the U.S. military machine again.

While I have no doubts that Clark’s candidacy will fail — his domineering and hypersensitive personality will see to that — I am fascinated by the reaction of Americans whenever someone with military ties decides to seek the presidency. Like John McCain, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination in 2000, large groups of Americans seem to believe that all it takes is for a military man to "straighten out things" in the government, and in this country.

As I have grown older (I turn 50 this year on Charles Manson’s and Tonya Harding’s birthday), I have come to see that as I become more radically libertarian, in contrast, I find that Americans have increasingly come to despise their freedoms and are looking to give them away to any unscrupulous politician who will take them. These are the same folk who actually believe that a U.S. president is someone who "runs the country," and what better person to have at the helm than someone who gives orders — and expects his underlings (all the rest of us) to obey quickly and completely.

As the late Clarence Carson so aptly noted, this idea that a president "runs the country," is preposterous and downright dangerous. He wrote:

The assumption is, of course, that someone should be in control of the country. It bespeaks a passion for having everything and everyone under some sort of central control, a passion that has been gaining sway for most of this century, or longer. The notion that undergirds this passion for control is that without such central human control chaos, disorder, cupidity, and confusion will take place.

This passion for control has been most pronounced in the economic realm: control of banking, control of the railroads, control of "trusts," control of prices, control of electricity, control of the stock market, controls of farm products, control of hours of work, control of wages, control of drugs, control of hospitals, control of interstate transport, and so on and on. But it has tended to invade every realm of activity: formal education, the practice of medicine, international relations (e.g., the formation of the League of Nations and United Nations), environmental controls, pollution controls, and such like.

And in the minds of his supporters, Wesley Clark is just the man who can pull off this gargantuan task, just as John McCain could have done it, had Republicans had the good sense to nominate him three years ago.

In other words, Clark is "the keeper of the secret," someone who knows how to make government (and our society) work the way it is supposed to work. As I pointed out following the death of John F. Kennedy, Jr. in 1999, the political classes tend to create heroes and endow them with fictitious powers. The reality is that no one is capable of doing these things, but that does not stop the political classes and their media allies from believing in the political version of Santa Claus.

I will leave it to other writers to point out that Clark’s leadership in the unjustified U.S. military intervention into the Kosovo conflict was disastrous, and that he came close to becoming the caricature of the military "nut case" who wants to bomb everyone. (The same Hollywood set that has created these military madmen on the silver screen now bows down before Clark, apparently not realizing that in Clark life imitates art.) Furthermore, I will leave it to others to point out his many personal flaws that almost certainly will turn off potential voters long before the Democrats actually choose their candidate.

No, I just want to make a simple point about Clark and others who enter the political realm as conquering heroes: in the end, they are only people who have feet of clay. The problem is not that they are limited like the rest of us, but that they and their supporters never seem to be aware of those limitations, even when they lead us into disaster.

September 23, 2003

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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