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What Clark Could Mean

Mark Kleiman reports positively on Wesley Clark's emerging Presidential run. It's way too soon to be deciding who I'll be supporting, but I welcome the General's efforts to stay engaged on the national scene and think it's possible that great things could come of it. Ezra Klein's also excited. I worry, though, that while Clark could be part of the solution, he also may be part of the problem. As Ezra says, "Kerry thought his resume enough to prove his national security cred; he was wrong." It would be a great shame for Democrats to learn the lesson that the solution is someone with a better resume in the field of war fighting. Resumes are useful in Presidential campaigns, but they only go so far. The problems liberals face on the national security front are much more systemic than they are candidate-related. If a candidate with the right kind of resume can serve as a catalyst for a better approach in a broad sense, then that's excellent. But if the search for the perfect remedy serves as an excuse not to find that broader approach, then it's terrible.

There are some important questions out there that need to be wrestled with. Good candidates will be the ones who start answering some of them compellingly. Useful candidates will be the ones who at least spur thinking on these matters. Candidates who try and use their personal qualities to obscure the need for figuring out what we want to say, and then figuring out how best to say it, are not what's needed. General Clark certainly has the potential to be a force for enormous good in liberal politics -- I just hope he makes the best of it.

April 17, 2005 | Permalink


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» Wesley Clark Runs Again from CommonSenseDesk
Matt and Ezra both think that is good news. [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 18, 2005 8:00:41 AM

» Wesley Clark...good for the Dems in '08? from bennellibrothers.com
Mark Kleiman has a post discussing a speech Wesley Clark gave at a fundraiser: Just back from a fundraiser for Wesley Clark's WesPac, with Clark himself as the main attraction. Clark is running for President in 2008. He stopped just... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 18, 2005 11:28:35 AM

» Clark to Dems: Get over Vietnam from Mark A. R. Kleiman
Oh, and he's running for President. [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 19, 2005 7:07:06 AM

» Clark to Dems: Get Over Veitnam from Blogcritics
Wesley Clark appeared Saturday at a fundraiser for Wespac in connection with the California Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Clark... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 19, 2005 6:06:44 PM

» Clark to Dems: Get Over Veitnam from Blogcritics
Wesley Clark appeared Saturday at a fundraiser for Wespac in connection with the California Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Clark... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 19, 2005 6:07:13 PM

» Clark to Dems: Get Over Vietnam from Blogcritics
Wesley Clark appeared Saturday at a fundraiser for Wespac in connection with the California Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Clark... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 19, 2005 6:25:46 PM


Anybody but Edwards.

Posted by: poputonian | Apr 17, 2005 10:54:18 PM

I think you miss the distinction I'm drawing. You're right that resume's aren't enough, but tha'ts my point5 as well. You need to look the part. Kerry didn't seem like a war hero, and since he didn't visually fit his resume, he didn't much benefit from it. Clark, conversely, looks like a military man in a very profound way. His bearing, his demeanor, his mannerisms, his haircut -- the whole thing screams armed forces. That's why he's a different case than Kerry -- he brings an internal, heuristical credibility to the table that Kerry simply didn't. And since the man matches the background, I think he'll enjoy the national security benefits that Kerry was denied.

Plus, having commanded a war that didn't lose a single American life won't hurt.

Posted by: Ezra | Apr 17, 2005 11:25:07 PM

Huh. On second read, you may just be commenting on that sentence and not actually ascribing the sentiment to me. In which case, carry on, and consider my previous comment a potential counterargument.

Posted by: Ezra | Apr 17, 2005 11:28:08 PM

I like Clark because he has the confidence that comes from knowing he has a certain credibility on foriegn policy, so he doesn't tip toe around the subject. Kerry ran on his resume thinking he could neutralize foreign policy and move the debate to domestic issues; Clark wouldn't bother with neutralization, he'd just run on foreign policy. Plus, he's the candidate I most agree with in this area, and has the best ideas. My only concern is that he's a little weak domestically. He's like Edwards in reverse; strong on foreign policy, but he comes off as out of his depth on domestic policy. My ideal candidate would be like Edwards on domestic policy, but Clark on foreign policy.

Posted by: Greg | Apr 17, 2005 11:30:56 PM

That's why he's a different case than Kerry -- he brings an internal, heuristical credibility to the table that Kerry simply didn't. And since the man matches the background, I think he'll enjoy the national security benefits that Kerry was denied.

I think you're being naive here. The real swing voters aren't going to look at his background or other things like that. That's too substantive for them. Furthermore even though he gives a very good impression of a military demeanor, that's not going to help him much at all. The real swing voters (ie the "value voters") are basically very shallow people who vote on shallow things like is the candidate just like me, is he too elitist, is he an ordinary guy I want to have a drink with? Clark's military demeanor goes against that grain because it makes him look he's superior to other people. The democratic candidate who definitely wins on these very shallow points is John Edwards because he's got all the ordinary Joe schtick down pat.

Posted by: Dan the Man | Apr 17, 2005 11:36:54 PM

Plus, Kerry's failure wasn't his lack of military demeanor. It was his vote for the Iraq war, and his post-facto assertion that he stood by his vote. For Rove, this made the whole flip-flop thing oh so easy.

Posted by: poputonian | Apr 17, 2005 11:42:01 PM

I supported the Draft Clark movement. I sent him my pennies, or rather I sent the idea of him my pennies. Then, in one of the most uncomfortable televised moments in recent political history to watch, he announced his candidacy. Wesley Clark has an astonishing resume, and if politics was about resumes alone he'd have been a shoe in, but it ain't, and unless this man somehow overcomes the charisma gap (which is of course the hardest gap to overcome - if you don't have it you probably never will) he will have a very difficult time winning the presidency. And I hope Democrats will not be so foolish as to nominate three charismatically challenged candidates in a row.

Posted by: Robin the Hood | Apr 17, 2005 11:42:29 PM

Generak Ckark is an incredibly smart man. I wish he'd started sooner last time out. With a few differenct breaks last time he could have pulled out a winbut the Clintonesque late start strategy worked against him in an atmosphere where everyone was eager to annoint the first person who came along.

Clark made huge strides in NH while everybody else was out in Iowa, but Dean's dismal showing in Iowa made Kerry look stronger than he wasNH's vote was half homeboy and half frontrunner. If Clark had been able to get an Iowa campaign together, or if Iowa's result hadn't been blown out of porportion to it's actual importance, Clark might have picked up a few more points in NH and looked stronger going into mini-super and super Tuesdays.

Anyway, he won't start late this time, and he learns from his mistakes. He's smart and good looking, and knows a bijillion people with money. Oh, and Gert is dazzling in person too. After fifteen minutes of talking to her anybody on earth would walk on coals for either of them.

On military matters, nobody can accuse him of not having the best interest of the country or the troops at heart. He got up to speed on domestic issues faster than anybody I've ever seen, and after his inital flubs with the press he became slicker than snot on a brass doorknob. I'll work my ass off to get this man elected. Rent is cheap in Little Rock. If you want to help save American from what Bush has done to it, start looking for a place there soon.

Posted by: bunny | Apr 17, 2005 11:46:53 PM

Ahh, Matt makes the point I kinda tried to make at Ezra's, but does so much better.

Here's my take; Clark can use his background and personality as a boost to his standing with the people on defense, or he can use it as a crutch and watch the policy elites and the masses be underwhelmed. His background hurt him last time because people thought he was being overly-political and inconsistent over Iraq in contrast to Kosovo, and that was a charge he never could escape from, because, well, he was.

It's like Bush's ties to Big Oil. He used them to his advantage in 2000, and certainly to he and his friends' private advantage since then, but it's been a focal point for Democratic attack and media scrutiny because there's a lot of of stuff there to use in attacks.

The Republicans are smart in that they attack strength and do so pretty damn well. Clark will have to understand his biography is not going to be a self-evident refutation to the slung shit. Candidates have blind spots to their strengths sometimes, and that opens them to attack. Is Clark going to be able to see and respond in productive ways to charges that he is a traitorous Frenchman who had sex with Clinton and Chirac at the same time while starting war with the Russians like a crazy man?

Posted by: SamAm | Apr 17, 2005 11:57:57 PM

Also, wasn't the defeat of John Kerry a satisfactory refutation of the thesis that one's military background is sufficient enough to neutralize the Democratic Party's perceived weakness on national security? If you're politically tone deaf, and you fail to fully grasp the historical moment no amount of military experience is going to help you. I feel fairly secure in the knowledge that General Clark understands the importance of national security and foreign policy at this moment. Does he understand though that an overarching commitment to the promotion of democracy in the Arab world is now the litmus test on national security and foreign policy? On this not-incidental point he appeared to be every bit as tone deaf as John Kerry.

Posted by: Robin the Hood | Apr 18, 2005 12:12:00 AM

Soon Clark will become inevitable. Then something will happen, and it will be inevitable that he falters. And then he will become inevitable again.

Posted by: jerry | Apr 18, 2005 12:33:18 AM

How about this cosmic revelation: if he comes up with an easily communicable vision for the country and rationale for his candidacy (in politics, we call this "message") he will be an excellent candidate. And most importantly, the message must fit the times.

If you have a message that fits the times, a reasonable amount of money, and are reasonably likeable, it will beat a charismatic but message-less candidate every time.

Wesley Clark is a very intelligent guy who probably has a great strategic mind. We'll see if he figures out this message thing. I definitely wouldn't put it past him.

Posted by: Buford P. Stinkleberry | Apr 18, 2005 12:50:33 AM

"Wesley Clark is a very intelligent guy who probably has a great strategic mind. We'll see if he figures out this message thing. I definitely wouldn't put it past him."

I don't completely discount the possibility, but he had a presidential campaign to convince me he "got it" and he didn't. All he had to say was that he believed Arab and Muslim democracy was the most important national security and foreign policy issue of our time, and that a Clark administration would seek to build a true international coalition to pursue that end, and spread the burden around. Why was that so complicated that not a single Democrat (save Lieberman, who is indeed in a number of other respects a "demented milquetoast") running for president could even so much as mention it?

Posted by: Robin the Hood | Apr 18, 2005 1:05:59 AM

I don't think Clark would suffer from the same problems as Kerry, mainly because unlike Kerry, he's capable of being clear and doesn't have Kerry's baggage of being a member of an anti-war group that had connections to Communists.

Kerry just hemmed and hawed too much. Clark did have some issues with message, mainly due to his inexperience, but I think he'll be ready in 2008. He also needs to dump the handlers and speak his mind. He seemed like he was just trying to be Mr. Perfect Democrat during the primaries rather than the Real Wes Clark.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Apr 18, 2005 2:07:30 AM

I for one am intrigued by bunny's post. I think there's a strong case to be made that if Clark had somehow become the frontrunner at a certain point, the whole election could have worked out quite differently. To steal a metaphor from baseball, just because he struck out last time doesn't actually mean he won't line a double in the next at-bat.

I'll say this: he's useful to have on shows like Bill Maher just to set the conservative mendacity machine straight on liberals being soft on war and things like that.

Posted by: Martin | Apr 18, 2005 2:28:41 AM

I hate generals.

Posted by: abb1 | Apr 18, 2005 2:50:54 AM

I don't think Clark is a viable Presidential candidate, but I do think he's a terrific asset for the Party.

Clark's value is not in his title. It's in his experience of being the military man in charge of the only fully successful Democratic led war since 1945. And it's in his ability to speak to the Democratic base about military issues and have them listen.

Posted by: Petey | Apr 18, 2005 3:07:17 AM

I think message is important, charisma is important, resume is important, and the ability to thwart attacks--baseless attacks--is important. I'd like a perfect candidate, but we've got to accept that we don't really have any on the table, at least at this point. And, with the hubbub over polls showing the President dropping, our Democratic Congressional delegation isn't pulling in good numbers either. So, what I'd really like to see (I'm sure there are good minds working on this) is a media strategy to start pushing Democratic postives in the media. Whoever rises to the top of the pyramid can't stand alone, but needs to sit atop a postive agenda that has already began to strike people in small ways. Dems can't invest their fortune in the salvation of one person, but have to rest their fortune on the things they can do to improve the country. And, until people see that Dems can improve the country, they're likely to be skeptical of Dems generally.

Posted by: KC | Apr 18, 2005 4:03:36 AM

The idea that Kerry's military record was so unproblematic that it unambgiously should have helped him, seems to clash with his refusal to this date to sign form 180, and actually release said record.

Moreover, most people will regard the metal throwing, and attacks on his comrades as war criminals, as part of his military record. If he's not proud of what he did in the military, why should anyone else regard it as a positive?

The point being, yes, it WAS at least in part candidate related, and don't fool yourselves on that score.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Apr 18, 2005 5:45:10 AM

I voted for the guy because of the medal throwing and his activities that you mischaracterize as "attacks on his comrades as war criminals", so at least some of us regard it as a positive.

Posted by: abb1 | Apr 18, 2005 6:10:29 AM

"On military matters, nobody can accuse him of not having the best interest of the country or the troops at heart."

What country have you been living in? Repubs would call Audie Murphy a coward and traitor, the media would have balanced panels discussing it, Congress would have hearings on whether he really charged the pillbox. And the American people would by a plurality trust Jeb Bush to keep the country safe. Unless Democrats with sustained hackery destroy Jeb. I suggest replacing Martin Sheen's head in the baby-shield scene from The Dead Zone.

The facts no longer matter...at...all. Get over it.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 18, 2005 7:31:07 AM

Hey Ezra, did you ever think about what, exactly, it means to, as you wrote, "...... commanded a war that didn't lose a single American life won't hurt"? The sentence, I think, is true enough on its face. And yet the implications behind it are ludicrious. It is no knock on the General. But it should not pass the smell test. How many wars do you know of in history where one of the participants suffered NO deaths? And you attribute this astonishing fact to what? Outstanding leadership?

Posted by: jon stanley | Apr 18, 2005 7:45:49 AM

Clark gives off too much of a "creepy oompa loompa vibe" for me (kind of like Ross Perot). I can almost imagine Frau Farbissina having to use the spray bottle on Clark.

And you're all hallucinating if you think that Clark's military background will make him a sure thing with national security-minded swing voters. In the general election, the Republicans would turn Michael Moore into Clark's running mate (regardless of whether Moore gets involved with Clark again in '08). The Michael Moore alliance was, of course, a complete travesty. Clark's career was about the projection of American power, Moore hates the projection of American power and portrayed Clark's main accomplishment (Kosovo) as a war crime in "Bowling for Columbine". And yet Clark accepts his support. If he'll do that to get elected, what won't he do? (That would be the Repub argument).

Posted by: mw | Apr 18, 2005 8:13:40 AM

I like Clark, but I never understood the Clarkies (ditto deaniacs, joementums, etc...) They all had the same blind spot with regards to their candidate early on - that somehow he was the guy who was immune to the laundry list of standard republican attacks.

And, no, most importantly Clark does *not* look the part of the military man. Military men are beefy thick-necked goold ole boys. I'm sure Clark could filet me with a pencil, but he really doesn't look the part.

None of this should be interpreted as being against a Clark candidacy, but I don't want to relive the '04 primary season for a little while. "Your guy (or gal)" is not immune. No matter who it is. As long as we're thinking that way we're doooooooommed...

Posted by: Atrios | Apr 18, 2005 8:29:25 AM

Clark's biggest strength is the quality of his volunteers. The best volunteers here in Fairfax are the Clark people, by any measure. I say this as a Dean person. The Dean people are very active and played a decisive role in carrying Fairfax County for Kerry last year. But the Clark people, while fewer in number, are in a class by themselves both when it comes to energy as well as skill.

Posted by: Alice Marshall | Apr 18, 2005 8:34:01 AM

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