Thousands Cheer Clark at Pembroke Rally
Pat Hammond, The Union Leader, Jan. 18, 2004
PEMBROKE — Pembroke Academy gym was packed with an estimated 2,000 Wesley Clark fans, in the bleachers and standing shoulder to shoulder on the gym floor. They listened to the general’s every word, laughing at his wisecracks and clapping and cheering throughout the 30-minute speech.
The Presidential hopeful, clad in a black sweater, did not disappoint the men, women and children who came from New Hampshire and beyond to see and hear the candidate for themselves. The conservative deportment with which he carried himself early in the campaign had metamorphosized into the large voice and athletic vigor of a basketball coach. His messages came in simple language, with rising voice and a pause at the end of each paragraph.
Clapping and cheering followed each measured pause.
Outside the sprawling building, youthful campaigners for Dennis Kucinich did a sort of war dance and hoisted a banner that read, “Wesley Clark is a war criminal. He dropped depleted uranium on Yugoslavia.”
The Kucinich crew did not want to argue about it but responded to comments by handing out material supporting the Ohio congressman’s campaign for President.
Meanwhile, a loudspeaker on a car blared a message from Lyndon LaRouche, formerly of Rochester, who once again seeks the Democratic nod for President.
Preceding Clark in the gym were Mary Frances Berry, who chaired the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under President Clinton. She said the general “is the man who can be President for all the people. He’s got the goods.
And former Sen. Dale Bumpers — from Clark’s home state of Arkansas — who proclaimed that “Never in my lifetime have I seen this nation so desperate for leadership.”
And the flamboyant Michael Moore, longtime political activist, who described Clark as a man who, unlike other candidates who talk the talk, walks the walk.
The bleachers were a cloud of cheers when Moore drew attention to the general’s ability to relate easily with all kinds of folk.
“What do you see on this stage?” he called out. “The peacenik and the general.”
Clark demonstrated that he has adapted to the lingo of political rallying. “It’s time to put a Democrat back in the White House,” he said. “George Bush must go!”
“We need a higher standard of leadership in this country,” Clark said, and the cheers came. “Leadership that will pull this country together and not polarize us.”
“President Bush did not do all he could have to protect the U.S. before 9/11,” Clark said, “and after 9/11 he took us to war we did not have to fight.”
Clark said his measurable goals are to put America back to work and raise family incomes $3,000 a year; raise and enforce air quality standards; give $6,000 grants each for the first and second year of college or technical school to every high school graduate who wants to advance his or her schooling; and raise the minimum wage to $7.00 an hour.
“Those are family values,” Clark said, referring to Bush’s concentration on “family values” in his messages.
Peter Frost, a professor of psychology at Southern New Hampshire University, said he and his wife, Sheila, had really come to hear filmmaker and author Michael Moore.
“But the more I see of Clark the more convinced I am that he may be the only candidate who can win some of the Middle America states,” he said. “For me, it’s between Clark and Dean.”
Arnold Jacobs came up from New Jersey with a group from New York. “I think he is the only one who can beat Bush,” the man in the Veterans for Clark hat said.
“I was a Dean supporter in June but when Clark declared in September it became clear to me that he is the best. After New Hampshire I am going on to Delaware and South Carolina” to follow the Clark campaign, he said. “I never did this before — got actively involved in a campaign.”
Anna Liisa Dahl is from California but lives in Massachusetts. “I have a positive impression of Clark,” she said. “My husband is still deciding, too.”
As the fans chanted “We Want Clark!” the candidate reiterated, “We must bring a higher standard of leadership to the country.
“We are going to do it,” Clark roared. “We are going to do it! We are going to do it! We are going to do it!”