The Buzzwords of Wesley Clark
How he spins the issues.
Slate has been running several series of short features explaining who the 2004 presidential candidates are, what they're saying, and where they propose to take the country. The "Buzzwords" series analyzed the pet phrases of the candidates who had announced prior to today. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark joined the race this afternoon. Here are a few of his buzzwords.
Example: "I'd be different than they [the current Democratic candidates] are. I spent my life in … a different form of public service. It's been more hands-on leadership in a different way, more directive, more executive type authority. … I've got hands-on experience in foreign policy and military affairs that some of them don't have" (Buchanan and Press, MSNBC, July 25, 2003).
What it means: I've got practical experience.
What it hides: As a four-star general, what I've had my hands on is a desk.
Subtext: I'm the only real man in this race.
Examples: "[If we invade Iraq,] there is the possibility of an adverse reaction not in the Arab governments, but underneath in the Arab street that could supercharge the al-Qaida recruiting machine" (American Morning, CNN, Oct. 7, 2002).
What it means: Intensify.
What it hides: I'm using a mechanical metaphor because I can't explain the causal relationships on which I'm speculating.
Subtext: Trust me, if we do this, it'll be bad! Bad!
Example: "When we were dealing with the problems in Yugoslavia, we set up the contact group. The contact group had the United States and it had the European Union; it had Russia. … I think you need a Middle East contact group, because I think peace in the region is in the interests of all the countries in the region" (Meet the Press, June 15, 2003).
"We had a contact group arrangement in Europe where we brought people together. We need to do that here. We need to think about how the Syrians and the Iranians can be engaged in this also" (speech to the New Democrat Network, June 17, 2003).
What it means: A regional group of nations with whom we can work out big problems.
What it hides: Working with Syria or Iran is nothing like working with Spain or Italy.
Subtext: Talking solves everything.
Example: "As I look at American society, everything we had fought for and believed in in the armed forces about helping people be all they can be, about unleashing the human potential—we weren't doing it. … You've got to look 30 years out if you're talking about human potential, because the kids that are in school today … their most productive years are at least 30 years away" (speech to New Democratic Network, June 17, 2003).
What it means: Long-term gains from investing in people.
What it hides: Potential is by definition immeasurable. So for 30 years, we'd be spending billions and billions of dollars on a bet.
Subtext: Running social programs is just like running the military.
Hunger for leadership
Example: "As I've gone around the country again and again, I find just an enormous hunger for leadership" (Late Edition, CNN, August 17, 2003).
What it means: The public wants me.
What it hides: Do you even know anybody who knows anybody who's hungry for leadership?
Subtext: I'm running for president because all the other candidates are sissies.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Wesley Clark by Evan Vucci/Reuters.