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Monday, January 19, 2004  

Wesley Clark
Clark is another candidate, like Kerry, who has spent a lifetime serving the US. Also like Kerry, he's trying to fill out the resume with Commander in Chief. However, he seems to think a little larger than Kerry, and his status as former General means he's used to leading. He's smart, almost too Presidential looking, and has enormous foreign policy cred. Who knows what he thinks domestically--apparently he was a Reagan Democrat until 2000. On the other hand, he's running on foreign policy and will likely farm out domestic policy to a cabinet or let the legislature dictate the tempo. (And presumably he'll have at least two years of a GOP Senate and House, which means any domestic agenda he had would in any case be hobbled from the outset.)

If you were to to assemble an unbeatable candidate in the lab--a general, a charismatic and good-looking candidate, a Rhodes scholar, an urbane Southerner, someone with a lot of experience handling the public, an outsider who's well connected to a former President--you'd have Wes Clark. Question is, is this the way great leaders are measured?

Policy Positions
Despite his military cred, this is Clark's biggest weakness. He has no appreciable domestic policy, and can only muster vague interest in one. Depending on who you talk to, his positions on foreign policy are either Clintonian or Bushian. (They're Clintonian, but his long-winded speeches hide that fact.) I believe his positions are weaker as a candidate than they are in reality. He was a philosophy student, and according to everyone, generally the sharpest guy in any room. I don't think it will take him long to get up to speed on policy. Presumably he'll surround himself with great advisors, and his curiosity will allow him to shorten the learning curve.

In the meantime, Rove will try to exploit this weakness, but hey--Rove's going to exploit weaknesses no matter who the Dem is.

Clark is in the race because he's regarded as the most electable. Arch liberals like Michael Moore are lining up behind this guy not because he champions the causes they care about, but because he's a good-looking, smart, Southern ... well, you know the rest.

He has run a very smart campaign and sitting out Iowa was genius. It has allowed him to get his footing before he starts to get hammered by the competition. (That begins tomorrow.) But based on the reports I've seen, Clark has an achilles heel: he knows how smart he is and doesn't play nice with others, alienating folks along the way. If Rove can isolate Clark as an egotistical elitist, he may pry enough swing voters away to flip the election. Dean has fallen in the polls because responding to relentless attacks have made him look short-fused. How will Clark handle them?

On the other hand, I saw him on "Meet the Press" a couple weeks ago and he looked great. Russert kept asking (to paraphrase) "Gee, Dean's a real rat bastard, isn't he?" Clark never rose to the bait. Meanwhile, on the other station, George Stephanopolous had Joe Lieberman dancing like toy poodle about Dean with similar questions. ("Yes, George, Dean is a rat bastard...")

The rap here is that Clark alienates people he works with. But in politics that doesn't matter. I imagine working for Bush is like being clubbed in the head every day. America doesn't see that, though, so it's a non-factor. In terms of leading America--are you kidding me? He'll have Americans (like Mike Moore) eating out of his hands.

This is emerging as a major issue for Clark--on the GOP side. They've been combing through his lengthy statements for equivocation. What they've found is good enough to make their base, umm, dance like toy poodles (a new catch phrase!), but my sense is Clark has the opposite problem--once locked onto a position, he's not going to negotiate much. With Clark, you get what you voted for.

Bottom Line
Clark is the mystery man to me. I'd be willing to gamble on him. He might emerge as exactly the kind of leader to right the ship, make it safe (for suburban housewives) to be a Democrat again. He's an "adult" of the kind the Bushies claimed to be--and that would be nice to see again. On the other hand, he could go Carter on us, refusing to negotiate, appearing unyielding and holier- (smarter-) than-thou. He might also ignore bedrock liberal goals. With generals, it's hard to say.

All in all, though, I guess I'm willing to take the risk.

posted by Jeff | 11:28 AM |
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