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Meeting up with General Clark's troops

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History may record that, at the first Raleigh MeetUp of Draft Clark 2004, held at The Third Place in July, there were either four people present, or five. (Memories differ.) By August, at Border's Books in Cary, it was 25. Last week, when the gang--having gotten General Wesley Clark to join the Democratic presidential race--gathered in mid-afternoon at the Angus Barn to watch his first TV debate, there were about 25 again, but most of them were first-timers. The big news: More than 150 were signed up for the next MeetUp, scheduled for Oct. 13. Those familiar with MeetUps will know that all Clark signees get a vote on the meet-up place. Favored: State Democratic headquarters--to accommodate the expected throng.

And who are the Clark-ites? The term "salt of the earth" comes to mind, but that displays a bias in favor of the well-informed, high-minded political neophyte. Suffice it to say, based on my conversations around the room, there didn't seem to be 10 minutes worth of actual political experience among them. National Public Radio came up a lot. And Doonesbury.

There were some died-in-the-wool Democrats, like Raleigh attorney W. Swain Wood, who said he knew North Carolina's own Sen. John Edwards was in trouble months ago when "Dean for President" signs started gracing the well-appointed halls of Kilpatrick, Stockton LLP. Then there were the independents like Jared Jenkins, a soil scientist at N.C. State who in 2000 was rooting for Sen. John McCain's maverick Republican candidacy. Jenkins is still sore over the right-wing ambush George W. sprung on McCain in the South Carolina primary. Jenkins' maverick this year: Wesley Clark.

Moderates and McCainiacs: No question these are the voters a Democratic nominee will need to unseat Bush next year, and it's no surprise they're drawn to Clark, the Rhodes Scholar and former NATO commander who, after announcing his candidacy, revealed that he voted for Ronald Reagan (twice) and Richard Nixon and who's been revealed to have said nice things about Dick Cheney, of all people. Ouch.

I was surprised, though, when another Clark supporter, Beth Berman, pronounced herself liberal and, later, left wing. Not only that, she's a Dukie from Durham! "Because I think he's electable, first of all, and he's qualified and would do a good job," Berman said of the general. "I think we've seen what lousy leadership can do. Why not try somebody who's smart and has accomplished something in his life?"

Like everyone else in the room, Berman relishes the thought of putting Clark, in his uniform, up against Bush, the faux flight-suit president. Just the thought of it makes her laugh and laugh. After Duke, Class of '77, she herself served four years in the Army as an "interrogator"--more laughter--using her language training to interview any and all who came out of then-totalitarian Romania. She understands that Vietnam-era baby boomers are blinking at Clark's military background, just as they do hers. "I had an e-mail this morning from a friend of mine asking, 'Well, yeah, but what about us pacifists?' "

Her answer? The military, she says, "is in many ways a more equitable institution than others in our society," including, notably, Duke. "It's a good thing that the people who live in barracks clean up their own latrines, as opposed to students who make a mess and leave it for housekeepers who work at minimum wage." Most soldiers she met weren't in the Army to kill people, she adds, they were there "because they needed a job and to learn some skills."

It does concern Berman that Clark was a Republican-leaner until recently. But she credits what he said about that: Since 9/11/01, things have changed, especially in the White House, where Bush has spun out of control. "I think Clark is speaking literally for millions of people, including many who may have voted for Bush," Berman says. They want someone who's in the political middle, where Bush used to pretend he was, at least. "I think the Republicans would have a field day painting Dean, for example, as an ultra-radical out to ruin the country with 'gay marriage' and 'soft on defense' stuff." Clark is "invulnerable" to that crap.

The MeetUp Meter: Clark's jumped into second place in terms of MeetUp signees, with 31,000 nationwide. Dean's way ahead with 118,000. Our favorite lefty, Dennis Kucinich, registers at 13,000; Johnny Edwards, with 1,300, doesn't. Dean's got six Triangle meetups Wednesday, Oct. 1, in locations from Raleigh to Carrboro. Next Kucinich meetup is Thursday, Oct. 2 at the Flying Saucer in Raleigh. Edwards' is Oct. 7 at a location TBA--the voting isn't over yet. If none of this makes sense to you, you gotta go to www.meetup.com and all will be clear.

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Conservative Cary? The three mayoral candidates were debating Monday night on NBC-17, and out of the blue were asked: Durham just approved benefits for the domestic partners of government employees, gay and straight. Should Cary? Republican Ernie McAlister, the Chamber of Commerce candidate, barely hesitated. Yes, he said. Julie Robison? Yes. Glen Lang? Yes.

Next: From Cary's lips to Raleigh's ears?

Good Hope Hospital's certificate of need application, our topic last week, was rejected by the state. Send other good news to rjgeary@aol.com or call 412-5051. EndBlock

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