Can Wesley K. Clark get his troubled campaign back on track? On Nov. 11, BusinessWeek Washington Bureau Chief Lee Walczak sat down with the former general in Franklin, N.H., to explore Clark's views on political strategy, the economy, Iraq, and other key issues. Note: This is an online-only, extended version of the edited excerpts from their conversation that appears in the November 24, 2003, edition of BusinessWeek:
Q: After much early hoopla, your campaign seems to have lost altitude. When will your Presidential bid take off?
A:I've never been in elected politics and didn't prepare a campaign. It was all very much to be expected. But we have laid out very solid policy positions, we've got enormous fund-raising, and we have a lot of Internet support.
Unlike the [Howard] Dean campaign, this is not a campaign of protest. This effort is built around hope and promise. We have yet to spend our first penny on advertising. When you've never done this before, there's no magic. It just takes a lot of hard work.
Q: You've spent much time on the defensive, explaining your changing views on Iraq and your earlier praise of the President. Are these issues behind you?
A:Those aren't issues. They don't resonate. The American people don't care whether I praised [George W.] Bush or not or when I became a Democrat. They care about things like, "What are we going to do now about Iraq?"
Q: You insist that it would be better to turn military operations in Iraq over to NATO. Have you asked NATO about this?
A:First of all, it's unlikely that this Administration will persuade NATO to get involved. I've offered a new Atlantic Charter -- the idea that we would mutually pledge the right of first refusal, of first choice, when we deal with our security problems together. You can't get people to participate unless they have a seat at the table.
Q: What has been the impact of the war in Iraq on the war on terror?
A:The truth is that there are hundreds of thousands of angry, humiliated, frustrated, powerless young men in the Islamic world. And what we have done in Iraq is make ourselves accessible to them. We must move expeditiously to put the Iraqi people back in charge. Because the longer we stay there, the greater the possibility of a disastrous fracturing of Iraq.
Q: The economy grew at 7.2% in the last quarter and is generating new jobs. Do you really think you can do better?
A:We still lost manufacturing jobs last month. The question is: Are those jobs ever coming back? We have to recognize that the future of this economy depends on creating manufacturing and knowledge-based jobs that will be resident here.
Q: How do you do that?
A:First, [we need] direct government action to help address urgent needs with infrastructure, homeland security, tuition assistance, and the like. Secondly, [we must] work on science and technology with a real national goals program that invests real money. Third, we need a program of education that assures that every boy and girl is developed to their full potential. Vouchers won't do it; charter schools won't do it. It's public education.
Q: Is it realistic to call for repeal of President Bush's tax cuts?
A:It's not only viable, it's going to happen. This Administration's economic policy is founded on hope, not reality. I'm saying that 1% to 1.5% of the population will give back the [money] that George Bush borrowed from our children. Many executives tell me privately that this Bush tax cut is bad, because people who should be shopping at their stores are being hurt.
Q: You have pledged to make the deficit a central focus. What's your plan?
A:We have laid out a deficit-reduction plan that gives $2.3 trillion back. We'll probably use about $1 trillion for health care. Then it's pay-as-you-go.
Q: Republicans think their policies are more attuned to the rising investor class. Do you have anything to offer these would-be rich people?
A:I hear a lot of noise from the Republicans about the small investor. What I see is policies that favor the large investors.
Q: You claim to be a free trader but also talk of strengthening labor and environmental safeguards in trade pacts.
A:You can't have free markets without strong regulation. They go together.
Q: Are you a real outsider in the Presidential race if you've spent years rubbing shoulders with the business and academic elites?
A:I'm not an outsider, and I'm not an insider. I'm not making tactical decisions. I'm just trying to be myself. The difference is that I'm not a politician.
Q: You've dropped out of Iowa, and you're running third in New Hampshire. But history says it's tough to ignite a candidacy as late as Feb. 3, when South Carolina and other states vote. Can you pull that off?
A:Look, everything about this candidacy is unconventional. But you know what the most important thing is? I believe in this country, and if people believe in me, that's all the magic it takes.
Q: What has surprised you since you entered the race?
A:[Hoarsely] Losing my voice! I just keep talking too much.
Edited by Mike McNamee