CONVENTION: Clark: Alt-Weeklies ‘Vital to American Democracy’

More than 150 early-risers greeted retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark with rousing applause and intermittent “amens” Friday morning as he discussed faulty motivations for the war in Iraq and an ongoing quest for America’s next big idea.

“We don’t have the right big idea,” he said. “What is it? American Idol? What is the big idea? It’s certainly not the war … That can’t be the big idea of American society.”

The former Democratic presidential candidate spoke of current struggles across the nation’s business, health care, and education fields — and expressed dismay at the distracting focus on the war on terrorism.

“If we keep that focus, we’re going down,” Clark said. “That’s not the most important thing.”

Clark criticized the Bush administration’s “high degree of incompetence” in handling the war in Iraq and likened Bush’s post-September 11th response to the reaction of a college student who suddenly realizes he forgot to write a term paper over Christmas vacation.

But the four-star general said that now that troops are engaged, it is too early to jerk them back. “What we’ve got to do is try to get a C-, D+ solution,” Clark said.

“It might work. It’s too early to say it can’t happen, therefore we’ve got to maintain our military commitment.”

Clark also reflected on his own military career and his upbringing in Little Rock, when, he said, “we had an organizing principle in America — and it didn’t stop rock and roll.”

He empowered alt-weeklies to search for a similar principle today, by educating readers with critical reporting on big issues.

“As alternative weeklies … you cover news in a way that’s vital to American democracy … and we need you out here in America,” Clark said.

For full Convention coverage, download Saturday’s Convention Daily newsletter here.