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Clark defends late arrival to Democratic Party

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  • Clark defends late arrival to Democratic Party

    Clark defends late arrival to Democratic Party

    HENNIKER, New Hampshire (AP) -- Denying accusations that he joined the Democratic Party out of political convenience, presidential candidate Wesley Clark says "everything has changed" in the two years since he praised the Bush administration at a Republican fund-raiser.

    Since then, he said Friday, "this administration has taken us into a reckless war. It's got an economic policy that's nothing but tax cuts. This administration has lost the confidence of the American people. Certainly, it's lost my confidence."

    In a 2001 address to Arkansas Republicans, unearthed by the GOP, Clark praised former Presidents Reagan and Bush while calling the current Bush administration "a great team." He also seemed to criticize the Clinton administration's foreign policy in its first term.

    Word of the speech drew criticism from several of Clark's Democratic rivals, including Joe Lieberman, who said, "I was fighting (Bush's) reckless economic strategy while Wes Clark was working to forward the Republican agenda by raising money for the Republican Party."

    Clark fired back, saying that when it came time to pick a political party, "I was going to be either a very, very lonely Republican or I was going to be a very happy Democrat. ... I'm a new Democrat, and you know what, I'm going to bring a lot of other new Democrats into the party."

    At his first New Hampshire town-hall meeting here, the retired Army general expressed remorse for the military's failure to protect its women from sexual harassment and assault.

    He called for more training and said he had made it clear all military personnel should be treated equally. He also met privately for 20 minutes with the woman who raised the issue.

    Clark, one of 10 Democrats seeking the presidential nomination, faced a wide range of questions, from the environment to health care to the anti-terrorism Patriot Act.

    He called for a full review of the act, which gives federal investigators broad powers to fight terrorism but has raised concerns about invasion of privacy and abuse of civil liberties.

    "I think the United States Congress in fear, in haste and in a surge of patriotism pushed through that act," he said. "All right, it was done, but we should never compromise our rights like that without a full review."

    A better way to prevent further terrorist attacks would be to focus on finding Osama bin Laden "rather than chasing off in distraction in Iraq," he said.

    Clark was less forceful on some domestic issues, saying it will be another two weeks before he's ready to release a detailed plan to expand health insurance coverage. The plan will build upon existing government programs but also will include plans to contain the rising cost of health care, he said.

    "People have a lot of questions," Clark said. "I've got some answers, but I need a lot more answers more quickly."
    "Every man has his weakness. Mine was always just cigarettes."