By William Safire
We have another retired general and another intriguing verb. Wesley Clark, during a debate in Arizona, was criticized by Senator Joe Lieberman for saying at first that he would have voted for the Congressional resolution that authorized the attack on Saddam Hussein’s regime and later saying the opposite.
Clark denied flip-flopping, explaining that he ”would have voted for a resolution that took the problem to the United Nations.” Pressed by the moderator, CNN’s Judy Woodruff, Clark explained, ”At every stage as we walked down through this resolution . . . I took the situation as it was and necked it down to look for the least worst choice.”
Is this what Clark had in mind? When I queried his campaign, the general was too hoarse to talk to me, but a spokeswoman to whom he whispered his explanation of his reaction to the Congressional resolution had an answer. ”What he meant by necking down was this: at every stage he was faced with an already-made decision, and he reacted to that already-made decision. Necking down means tracking as the decisions evolve and coming up with your reaction. He is saying, ‘Here is my reaction at this stage.’ ”
General Clark was kind enough to draw a diagram of this fascinating process that brings the definition to life with what mathematicians and physicists would find to be graphic clarity, but I am unable to share it with readers because a copy was vouchsafed to me on background. It has nothing to do with hyping a bullet. After close snake-checking, I can report only that the diagram of necking it down looks more like a staircase.