I’ve finally gotten around to watching MTP via TiVo-delay and am amazed at how poorly Wesley Clark acquitted himself. After yet more time to reflect–even after getting hammered on the issue in the debate Thursday evening–he still won’t say that George W. Bush wasn’t a “deserter,” as Michael Moore asserted while standing next to Clark and endorsing him.

MR. RUSSERT: Is it appropriate to call the president of the United States a deserter?

GEN. CLARK: Well, you know, Tim, I wouldn’t have used that term and I don’t see the issues that way. This is an election about the future, and what’s at stake in this election is the future of how we’re going to move ahead with the economy, how we’re going to keep the United States safe and what kind of democracy we want to have, whether we want an open, transparent government or whether we want a very closed and secretive government. To me, those are the issues.


MR. RUSSERT: But words are important, and as you well know under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, if you’re a deserter, the punishment is death during war. Do you disassociate yourself from Michael Moore’s comments about the president?

GEN. CLARK: Well, I can’t use those words and I don’t see the issues in that way. But I will tell you this: that Michael Moore has the right to speak freely. I don’t screen what people say when they’re going to come up and say something like that. That’s his form of dissent, and I support freedom of speech in this country, and I would not have characterized the issues in that way. I think this is an election where we have to look at the future, not at the past.


MR. RUSSERT: The right of dissent is one thing, but is there any evidence that you know of that President Bush is a deserter from the United States armed forces?

GEN. CLARK: Well, I’ve never looked into those, Tim. I’ve heard those allegations. But I think this election has to turn on holding the president accountable for what he’s done in office and comparing who has the better vision to take the country forward.

MR. RUSSERT: One of your major supporters uses words like that. Isn’t that a distraction?

GEN. CLARK: Well, it’s not distracting me, and I don’t see any voters out there who are distracted by it. I’ve talked to people all across this state, and not one single person has mentioned that. I will tell you this about Michael Moore, though. I think he’s a man of conscience. I think he’s done a lot of great things for ordinary people, working people, across America. And I’m very happy to have his support. He’s free to say things, whatever he wants. I’m focused on the issues in this campaign and how to take America forward.


He also made this bizarre assertion:

Now, I spent most of my adult life making less than $100,000 a year. In fact, more than half my time in the Army, I made less than $50,000 a year. My mother was a secretary in a bank, and so we struggled, from the time I was a kid growing up all the way through my military career, with what we were going to do at the end of the month and whether we could afford to get a car repaired and what if the seats had a hole in them and how you were going to pay for braces, and all of those issues were important.

That’s absolute nonsense. While it’s true that military pay was comparatively meager before the Reagan build-up, it has not been the case in Clark’s lifetime that military officers had trouble affording car repairs and medical care for the kids. Indeed, second lieutenants tend to drive rather nice cars. And Clark’s kids would have been eligible for free orthodontic services at base hospitals. And, of course, $50,000 in the 1970s and 1980s was a lot more money than it is now.

See Steven Taylor’s post from this morning for more on this appearance.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, Democracy, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark Hasty says:

    I’ve spent all my adult life making less than $100,000 a year. When do I get to run for president?

  2. Rob says:

    $50,000/year? That’s a goal for some people, not a mark of poverty. That’s way above the median income for my home state, North Dakota.

  3. Smash says:

    I think Clark is a walking ego-trip, and wouldn’t vote for him as dog-catcher.

    But I find myself in the unusual position of defending the General, in this case. I grew up as a military brat. My father was an officer. We might not have ever been “poor,” but we did have to scrimp a bit to live comfortably — at least until he made O-5.

    And no, the military doesn’t provide free orthodontic care for dependents. They did occasionally have “dependent dental day” at the clinics, but that was just for basic dentistry. Most of the time we had to go to the civilian dentists and orthodontists, just like everyone else.

    Second lieutenants drive nice cars because they’re typically single, with no kids. Officers with families usually have station wagons or mini-vans.

  4. James Joyner says:


    I grew up an NCOs son in the 1970s. I never needed braces, but was always able to get basic medical and dental care on base.

    And, shoot, officers nowadays make rather good money. I made more as a first lieutenant than I did as a college professor–and a good chunk of my income was tax free in the military, whereas it’s all taxable when you’re a civilian. Captains now make well into the $50,000’s, exclusive of locality pay, which is pretty comfortable. It’s not exactly big-time money, I’ll grant you, but there’s no reason not to be able to get the kids’ teeth fixed.

  5. richard says:

    my dad was a master or senior cheif in the navy ( I don’t remember which). we were not wealthy but I did have braces and TONS of alarmist doctor visits, our medical coverage was the best thing we had going when I was growing up

  6. jen says:

    Actually, James, I have to concur with Smash. I did have braces as a kid and my parents paid out of pocket. We had regular dentists too.

    My father was an officer, my mother a stay at home mom – they weren’t able to buy a single family home until they were in their 30s and money was tight a lot. We weren’t poor, but it was close at times.

  7. James Joyner says:


    Interesting. We had a single family home in Houston in 1968 when my dad was a staff sergeant. My mom was stay-at-home as well. Indeed, I’d never heard the term “single family home” until I moved up here–we just called them “houses.”

    When I first moved up here, I was paying $1500 a month in rent. An Air Force E-5 was living across the street from me and his housing allowance was over $1300 a month, tax free, on top of his salary.

  8. Jim says:

    I was listening to C-Span radio on Saturday morning at 0930 and they had a campiagn event with Clark. He was asked about the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy and his response was simple: “Its gone”

    Here is his response to Meet the Press today:

    MTP: If you became president, would you issue an executive order overruling “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military?

    GEN. CLARK: No. What I would do is go to the leaders of the armed forces and ask them to review the policy and come back and provide, to my satisfaction, a policy that is fair and that allows qualified people to serve. I don’t believe the United States armed forces should be the last institution in America that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.

    There is quite the difference between the two. Which is the one that Clark really believes? Or should I say which is the pander and which is the truth?

    In regard to Clark’s pay…how much do you want to bet he only meant base pay and not the untaxed housing and other payments he recieved?

  9. jen says:

    In only distinguished the single family home because townhomes were available in northern Virginia then (mid-70s). Prior to that house, we always lived in base housing. And I never recall my parents ever referring to a housing allowance when they discussed finances. Hazard duty pay was mentioned a lot because Dad was on deployment at sea a lot, but I don’t think it was a huge amount back then.

  10. James Joyner says:

    The only times we lived in base housing was when we were overseas and one year in Missouri because we knew it was a one-year tour ahead of time.

    And I understand the townhouse/SFH distinction. It’s just that I’d never lived anywhere where townhouses were common as anything other than rental properties until moving here. Housing is, of course, a lot cheaper almost anywhere.

  11. Boyd says:

    All of this discussion regarding orthodontia, housing, health care, etc., notwithstanding, when I watched the good General’s appearance on MTP today, he merely confirmed the poor opinion I developed for military officers during my naval career. While there were several very fine officers I served with and for, they were far and away the exception. If he’s talking about $50,000 per year, then he’s obviously got no clue about what his enlisted personnel had to deal with. I retired in 1995 as a Chief Petty Officer with a base pay of ~$22,000/yr, with tax free benefits adding another $10,000 or so. I’ll just put it this way: the only time he had to deal with pay as low as what I made when I retired, he was a 2nd Lieutenant, maybe a 1st Lieutenant.

    Sleezebag. Liar. Claim the ability to do anything (in the future), and accept responsibility for nothing that happened in the past. Step on whomever you have to in order to get what you want and further your own career. Pure slime.

    When I see his ad that’s currently running here, I want to puke. Reminds me of the worst of military officers: haughty, self-centered, inflated sense of self…and full of crap.

    Sorry, but as you might have guessed, this sorta touched a nerve for me. 🙂

  12. Boyd says:

    (Since it’s always good to suck up…)

    James, I’m sure you were one of the exceptions to what I experienced, at least based on what I’ve read here. With your different perspective, I’m sure your observations were different from mine. But I had too many bad experiences where officers believed their stool didn’t stink…because they expected me to clean it up for them.

  13. James Joyner says:


    No worries. The Army is much less that way than the Navy, which still has essentially the same class system it did two hundred years ago. In the Army, officers wear the same uniforms as the enlisted men, sleep in the same type of tents, eat the same food, crawl through the same mud, etc. I’m sure there’s still a great deal of arrogance of the part of a lot of officers towards their soldiers, but it’s a different ball game.

  14. Richard says:

    Where did the rumor about Bush going awol come from? What are the facts?

  15. Eric Bobak says:

    Read the facts at All of the research is documented.