GEN. WESLEY CLARK: I didn't come here tonight to bash George W. Bush. I did come to replace him. (Applause ) I think George W. Bush has brought to America leadership that looks backwards. He's emulated his father's war in Iraq, Ronald Reagan's tax cuts, and recently he's been talking about trying to duplicate John Kennedy's space program.
It's as if though he believes that America's best days are behind us. I don't. I think America's best days are ahead of us. And I don't think we have to wait until the ship of state capsizes before we change the captain, and that's why I'm running. When George W. Bush says he's been a compassionate conservative, he hasn't.
I think he's been a reckless radical; reckless in taking us into a war in Iraq we didn't have to be in and radical in pushing economic policies that consist of tax cuts for the wealthy, but don't do anything to help ordinary working people in this country.
So that's why I'm running. I want to try to change it. Now, I'm an Army officer by profession. I served for 34 years in uniform. I left Arkansas at the age of 17. I went to West Point. I went to Vietnam. Came home on a stretcher in 1970, stayed with the United States Army -- a lot of people got discouraged and quit. But I'm very proud to be a veteran. I retired three years ago. I was 55 years old.
I thought I was going to go out and make some money, and then teach at a university, lower my handicap and become a golf professional in later life.
People warned me, they said, "Look, you can't lower your handicap, anyway." They said, "God gives your handicap. You don't get it."
But it didn't work that way. Because what happened was that this country got into war, and I saw where this president was taking the country. And I simply had to work against it. So that's who I am, and that's why I'm running.
That's why I'm asking for your support. I want to be the next president of the United States and I want it to start right here. Thank you. ( Applause ) So now I'd like to take your questions. Right here.
MAN IN AUDIENCE: There's been a lot of trust issues involved with, you know, the government and its citizens. As far as your policies go, would you make it more open? And as far as information is allowing, you know, the citizens to actually decide for themselves what is good policy and what's bad policy?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: This government wants to tell you how to think as well as tell you how to act. And they don't want... ( applause ) if you criticize this government, they want to call you unpatriotic. They want to exclude you.
When they make decisions, they don't want you to know who contributed to the decision. And I'd like to know how they think we can have an open and transparent business community-- and businessmen will show their balance sheets and be honest with shareholders and investors across America-- when we have a president who won' even tell us who participates in these energy policy meetings that shape the energy bill.
I mean, it's just... it's a return to an imperial presidency the likes of which we haven't seen since Richard Nixon in this country. And it's wrong and we're going to throw it out. (Applause)
MAN IN AUDIENCE: Why are you the candidate that can beat George Bush? And I ask that when he will have raised much more money than you will have probably at that point. And he's been in power for three years and kind of has led this country with... almost a feeling of fear since 9/11. We should be nervous. We should be afraid. And we just have to get behind him because he's the president.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: Well, that's precisely why I am the candidate and the only candidate that can really meet and beat George Bush. See, the Democratic Party can no longer just be the party of jobs, health care and education, liberalism, the environment, compassion.
It's important, but it's not enough. This country is engaged in war. It's a war on terror. But it's also a war on the middle class, and it's a war on the values that we've held in the Democratic Party. It's wrapped up in patriotism and the American flag, and the idea that you have to rally behind the commander in chief because there's trouble abroad.
And there's only one person in this race who can hold George Bush accountable because I'm the only guy who's ever been a commander in chief of a region, negotiated a peace, led forces and won a war. And I got fire in my belly and I'll fight for every American child. And so will a lot of other people in this race, and I like them.
But they can't fight with George W. Bush on national security. They haven't been there. They haven't done it. They don't know it. I'm a known quantity in the world. You can talk to foreign leaders. They know me. They know me personally. They know what I stand for.
I'm the only person that's going to be able to go to George W. Bush and say, "Mr. President, you were negligent in your duties to protect the American people before 9/11. I've been a commander and I know what a commander's responsibilities are. And don't you dare lay the blame on 9/11 off on mid-level CIA and intelligence officers in the FBI. That is not correct.
More could have been done and this president could have done it. And I'm the guy that can say it. (Applause ) After 9/11, he also led us astray. And when I say I would have had Osama bin Laden by now, I have credibility when I say it because I would have. And I would know how to do it. And I do today.
This president tried to take us after Saddam Hussein instead, and he was wrong to do so. I'll hold him accountable before 9/11, and I'll hold him accountable after 9/11. Thank you all very much.
( Applause )