The first in a series of stories about presidential campaign fundraisers.
Retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, hoping to snag the leading role as the Democratic presidential candidate, came to Hollywood with his hand out Sunday night in the tradition of major liberal politicians with White House ambitions. Wearing a black shirt, black blazer and dark pants, he blended in at an Eagles concert held for his benefit.
"This is the kind of music I grew up loving," said Clark, who is 58, only a couple of years older than Don Henley and Glen Frey, founders of one of America's bestselling rock bands.
Clark's musical tastes weren't the draw, however, for 350 guests who had paid as much as $2,000 to attend a dinner, reception and concert. They wanted to hear him in person, and they greeted him with a standing ovation in a tent behind Morton's restaurant.
Ben Affleck, politely waving off a photographer, and Jennifer Lopez were there. So were Ted Danson and his wife, Mary Steenburgen, who grew up with Clark in Little Rock, Ark., and introduced him from the stage. But most in the crowd were industry executives with deep pockets -- like the evening's sponsors, music executive Irving Azoff, producers Jordan Kerner and Norman Lear, and Hard Rock Cafe founder Peter Morton -- routinely a source of cash for liberal candidates.
"I didn't come to trash George Bush. I came to replace him," Clark told his audience. A critic of the current administration's policy in Iraq, the four-star general got the loudest applause when he pledged the use of force "only, only as a last resort."
In a speech heavy on foreign policy, national security, the economy, deficits and energy independence, Clark drew cheers when he touted his plan to provide health insurance "for every child in America through the age of 22." He returned several times to the loss of jobs, before saying: "You need to help me help one more American lose his job." Referring to fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton, he continued, "We're setting a pattern here, now listen good: Rhodes scholars from Arkansas, we have it in for those Bushes from Texas."
Regarding his chances of winning the Democratic nomination, Clark, a late-starter in the 2004 election run, gave short shrift to polls, "though they look pretty good." He's leading in South Carolina, he said, without mentioning how far he trails in New Hampshire, scene of the first and perhaps most important primary. To catch the front-runners, Clark said, he will spend two or three nights a week in that state, and he has about 170 young people on the ground.
Speech over, Clark introduced the Eagles. The first song: their 1976 hit and his favorite, "Hotel California."
"When I was the commander of the National Training Center up here northeast of Barstow, we were out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and, of course it was California," he told reporters after the song ended. "People just loved the beat and everything. And they loved that famous riff, 'We [are all just] prisoners here of our own device.'
"Everybody volunteered to be there, and we worked literally around the clock. We were doing the most important job in the Army, we thought. We were training and preparing the Army to come out of the Vietnam War and transition to a force ... you saw what it did in Iraq. We had the right stuff. Somehow the music of the Eagles captured that."