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The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Wesley Clark and patriot games

By Robert Yoon
CNN

Handwriting on the placard: Wesley Clark signs an autograph for 8-year-old Dylan Vreeder at the recent
Handwriting on the placard: Wesley Clark signs an autograph for 8-year-old Dylan Vreeder at the recent "Hear It From the Heartland" forum in Iowa. Might young Vreeden be a future "Civilian Reservist?"

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Although he boasts of being new to the unseemly world of politics, it didn't take long for Democratic presidential nomination candidate Wesley Clark to latch on to three of the most popular buzzwords in the campaign lexicon: "new," "American" and "patriotism."

And to save time, he has strung them together into one umbrella policy proposal, which he'll begin to explain today in New York, kicking off a month-long series of what the campaign bills as "major policy speeches" that run the gamut from citizenship to health care to homeland security.

The retired general first publicly mentioned his vision for a "New American Patriotism" at a speech last month at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, less than a week after officially tossing his star-bedecked hat into an already crowded ring. (Take the Grind's 'new' quiz)

In that speech, Clark called for Americans to adopt a brand of patriotism in which dissent and the "courage to speak out" are "not condemned but praised" -- a doctrine under which Clark himself would presumably draw "praise" for his own "courage to speak out" against the war with Iraq.

Clark also invoked the "New American Patriotism" theme two days later in New York, where he delivered his first policy address as a presidential hopeful: a three-pronged, $100 billion jobs-creation plan.

The general once again mentioned the need to encourage debate and dialogue in public discourse, but the majority of his speech focused on his proposals for a $40 billion homeland and economic security fund; a $40 billion state and local tax rebate fund; and $20 billion in tax incentives.

Although the connection between patriotism and a "state and local tax rebate fund," for instance, was never that clearly articulated, today's connection between patriotism and community service seems a much easier sell. Pride in your community breeds pride in your country. No problem.

"It's a plan to open up opportunities for Americans to serve our country in a unique way. It gives you a blueprint on how to give back in a service-oriented kind of way," said Maya Israel, a Clark spokeswoman.

The 'Civilian Reserve'

Today, Clark will announce his plan to establish a "Civilian Reserve," comprising everyday Americans using their "unique skills" to tackle an assortment of community-based problems -- from specific tasks like repairing a crumbling school or a neighbor's tornado-ravaged home to broad, less tangible goals such as "securing the homeland."

The Civilian Reserve would work with -- but not replace -- the nation's armed forces in dealing with any number of local emergencies. The campaign did not release any more details on today's proposal, except to say that it would use technology to help identify and mobilize people so that their skills are applied most effectively.

This community-service component of the general's platform was honed in large part by Clark's campaign chairman Eli Segal, who in a past life founded and headed President Clinton's AmeriCorps.

Segal has been described as "a key adviser" in shaping the general's upcoming policy speeches, particularly today's remarks on service and volunteerism.

"But Gen. Clark has had his own ideas on national service that he's developed over 38 years," Israel says. "Eli Segal recognizes that Wesley Clark puts a high premium on national service. They're pretty much allied forces in this regard."

In the next several weeks, Clark, who leads our latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll with 18 percent, will unveil proposals on health care (October 20), the economy (October 27), and national security (November 4), all under the banner of "New American Patriotism."

At the risk of sounding un-American, it's hard to imagine what the obvious connection is between patriotism and, say, Clark's plan to reform Medicare Part B, but please don't tell the government we said that.


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