Cavalier Clark


Historian Thomas Fleming argues that

a certain type of general is able to win presidential elections, and another type is an almost certain loser. With the margin for error that all generalizations require, it becomes clear that the winners all fit Arthur Schlesinger's brilliant division of America's soldiers into roundheads and cavaliers. Roundheads eschew military glory and lay no claim to brilliance. They are all small d democrats. Cavaliers are all aristocrats, in love with glittering uniforms and orotund appeals to glory and patriotism. General Winfield Scott is the prototype cavalier. He designed his own gorgeous uniforms; the soldiers called him "Old Fuss and Feathers." The other major general in the Mexican War, Zachary Taylor, wore no visible signs of rank and sat his horse, Old Whitey, sidesaddle at the Battle of Buena Vista, eyeing the charging Mexicans before ordering the West Pointers in command of the artillery: "doubleshot your guns and give them hell." Ulysses Grant, who served in Mexico, was an Old Zach clone; there was not a sign of gold braid on his uniform and instead of soaring appeals to patriotism and heroism, he said: "We shall fight it out along this line if it takes all summer." Ike Eisenhower struck the same lowkeyed "let's get this job done" note [in] World War II.

Those of you who learned your history from the movies will recognize this as the distinction between General George C. Scott and General Karl Malden.

Fleming suggests that this trend spells trouble for Wesley Clark's candidacy:

During Clark's "war" in Kosovo, he was extraordinarily fond of getting his picture in the papers and on TV in his well tailored uniform. To the enlisted men this spells a damning phrase: glory hound. Moreover his war was an elitist operation in which all the fighting was done by a handful of pilots and techies in charge of cruise missiles. No large numbers of enlisted men served under Clark and learned to like his ways. Add it all up and Wesley's appeal to the American voters, outside the corps of desperate Democrats searching for someone to beat George Bush, is close to zero.

Which is a pretty broad statement. But he may be onto something.

NEXT: Hook, Line, and Sinker

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  1. I guess I did learn a good bit of history from that movie “Patton”. However, Jesse, I don’t think General Patton vs. General Bradley is a good analogy with the generals in Fleming’s article (which I did not read, except for your excerpt, BTW).

    Patton was a glory hound and, according to the movie, felt war was his purpose in life. Karl Malden oops, General Bradley, was low keyed and all that, but George Patton was also in the battles with the troops. The movie showed him having no fear basically when everyone else ducked for cover. See the scene around the time of Kaserine Pass when he just arrived in N. Africa (which also reminds me of the Robert Duvall scene in “Apocalypse Now” on the beach with his air cavalry unit – “What do you know about surfing son? You’re from G_____m New Jersey!”). See also the scene where he directed the tank traffic in eastern France on the way into Germany. I know, it’s just a movie, but I think they were trying to show his character.

    Totally off the subject, but my favorite war move of all time didn’t involve much fighting: “Bridge on the River Kwai” is a classic!

  2. Roundheads, like General Malden, seem to be administrators orchestrating action aligned with principle. They want the objective attained because it is “right”. Cavaliers, like the Generals Scott, are guided more by an image of soldiering. They play a role in history, but are not so concerned with shaping the future. It is the broader application of Roundheads’ principle that helps them become more than military leaders.

  3. “I just love when people draw conclusions from data samples in the single digits.”

    Abe: 11 Presidents were previously generals. Not even counting the losers, we’re in double digits.
    Considering we’ve had 43 Presidents, 11 of them generals, the data subset would be a little over 25% of the set of successful candidates.

  4. Jimmy: I hear you, but I don’t think your counterexamples get to the heart of the Roundhead/Cavalier distinction. Neither Schlesinger nor Fleming would suggest that a Cavalier couldn’t also show physical courage or military talent.

    River Kwai is a great picture, but my favorite war movies are the Stanley Kubrick trio: Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and Full Metal Jacket.

  5. >>>Paths of Glory

  6. Kirk Douglas’s scene with Adolpe Menjou at the very end of Paths of Glory is tremendous, when Dax realizes the French command thinks that he’s just interested in a promotion.

  7. Jesse, I guess I was also trying to say that Patton, as portrayed in the movie, was a soldier’s soldier – as opposed to the meaning of “a Cavalier”. I would think he’d have had a large amount of support from the fighting men (although so would General Bradley).

    Again, that’s the movie. As far a real history,
    unfortunately nowadays not many men are left who could tell you the answer.

    Best line from the best movie:


  8. isn’t that really the quintessential american outlook on military leadership? we adore the cincinnatus, but fear the caesar — or we did, at least, in more individualistic, democratic times. i wonder if things haven’t changed, perhaps, as we wander our historical course toward empire.

    there can be little doubt that clark, whatever his virtues or vices (the most considerable of which is probably in both cases, for the purposes of this election, that he isn’t dubya), is an egomaniacal, controlling prima donna. a greater contrast in style can hardly be scripted, with dubya the delegating, affable everyman.

    should he manage the democratic nom, it may turn the election into a barometer on just how far we’ve come from admiration of cincinnatus toward thinking him naive. i submit that’s probably not far enough to get clark elected.

  9. Clark is done. His numbers are already down, and Dean is well on his way to burying the competition for the nomination. Dean’s fundraising is looking stronger all the time, and his only real competition is likely to be Gephardt and his union buddies.

    It will be Dean v. Bush, which could be interesting. I predict Dean will give Bush a much closer run than Karl Rove thinks, but that if the economy continues to improve, it will be Bush.

  10. Citing a movie in a historical argument is probably not a good idea, considering the record of accuracy Hollywood has.

    Clark is like, nowhere, man.

  11. but clark would be good reciting the lines at the end of “bridges of toko-ri”: “where do we get such men…”

  12. Clark strikes me as more a, “The Green Berets” type

  13. Which is a pretty broad statement.

    …. and a true one, too…

  14. I just love when people draw conclusions from data samples in the single digits.

    And if Clark loses for whatever reason (a pretty good bet), they’ll blame it on his showboating… Now I want him to win just to disprove retards like this.

  15. I just love when people draw conclusions from data samples in the single digits.

    Geez. No one’s pretending to do science here, Abe.

  16. The Clark resembles McClellan some very interesting ways:

    1) Both ignominiously drummed out of command, fueling their motivation for political office.
    2) Both running as a logical choice, i.e., a military man to swiftly prosecute a war.
    3) Both risk the perception of solidarity with have extreme antiwar elements of their party.
    4) Both were politically attuned “glory hounds”.

    Abe, Hitler may have had satisticians like you who advised: “Charles V and Napoleon constitute a single digit sample size…go ahead and invade the USSR.”

  17. I dunno Abe, when you discuss personality types of American generals who run for the presidency, how many data points are you going to get?

    BTW, what type of general was Colin Powell?

    And how many Secretaries of State have run for President and won?

  18. Or maybe Burt Lancaster in Go Tell The Spartans.

  19. McCaffrey was promoted (to 3 stars) after Desert Storm — he was a division commander (2 stars–commanded the 24th Mech Infantry). He was publicly dissed by a Clinton staffer (“I don’t talk to the military”) then Clinton asked him to become drug czar.

  20. Clark strikes me as more of a “Colossus: The Forbin Project” kind of guy.

  21. Better yet, Fizzbin. If anyone’s a royal schronk, it’s Wes.

  22. McCaffrey led the “Left Hook” in 91, then got shown the door. Clark got a Rube Goldberg NATO command to win a war it wasn’t prepared to fight, the got shown the door.

    Why does this keep happening to the most successful combat commanders?

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