Tuesday, August 19, 2003

The Great Dem Hope?

Whether it's the symptom of the media's relentless emphasis on the horse race instead of policy or just another product of our postmodern age, a chunk of the electorate views "electability" as a candidate's most important attribute. (How so very "meta"...) But it's even dawning on some hardcore progressives that ideological purity is far less important than fielding a guy who can beat this maniac who's fucking shit up every which way. Good motto: win first, get politically sanctimonious later. (And given what's happened the last three years, can someone please shut Ralph "no difference between the two parties" Nader's trap? Thank you.)

Nobody whets the appetite of Democratic pragmatists like Gen. Wesley Clark, who may be close to announcing a run for the presidency. Clark, former Supreme NATO Comander, seemingly has the biography and presence that the other announced candidates lack. He's the New Democrat's wet dream: a respected general who led a successful military operation, graduated at the top of his class at West Point, and a forceful and charismatic commentator for CNN during Gulf War II, Clark could singlehandedly neutralize the Dems' achilles' heel -- voters' lack of confidence on national security issues. Here's a guy with the stature to challenge Dubya on security matters, Iraq, the War on Terrorism, etc. and make the criticisms stick.

Being a moderate pragmatist, I can't help but like Clark. He's charismatic and articulate, and at this point, looks to be the strongest Democratic contender in the general election (if he enters the race). But we have no clue how he'd respond to the rigors of campaigning, the inevitable media assault, nor do we know where he stands on most domestic issues. Early money says he'll chart a Clintonian course: taking controversial social issues "off the table" by taking moderate stances while winking to pertinent interest groups (as the Dem candidate will need to do with this year's hot-button Dem-loser issue, gay marriages) and pursuing responsible fiscal policies by minding the budget deficit. He'll fill the Clinton/New Dem vacuum left open by the stalled campaigns of the callow Edwards (who actually has some great things to say) and the unelectable Lieberman (who has nothing of value to say). For pragmatists, the hope is that if Clark pursues a political moderate path, the man won't be saddled with the "too liberal" onus that will give voters a reason to vote against the Democratic candidate, unlike one Howard Dean. The catch-22 is that if he does go this route, with that late start, the General won't excite that activist base that can push his candidacy past South Carolina on the primary calendar.

Prediction: Clark jumps in, grabs loads of media attention (as all the mainstream media outlets will be rooting for a close election), but couldn't excite the Bush-hating base and becomes the "smart choice" for VP on the Dean ticket.