Blogs > Cliopatria > Look in the Mirror

Nov 14, 2004 4:39 pm

Look in the Mirror

Let's play a "What If" game.

What if the Democrats had selected Wesley Clark to be their candidate instead of John Kerry. Would Clark be preparing to sit in the Oval Office now?

Looking back at campaign 2004 it's hard to conclude that he wouldn't have been a far superior candidate to Kerry. He is everything Kerry isn't: he is charming, he doesn't have a 20 year Senate career to explain away, he can't be accused of flip-flopping, he is strong on the military, he never testified before the congress about war crimes committed by Vietnam era soldiers.

These obvious strengths were obvious back in January. But the Democrats didn't stop to give him a long hard look.

Democrats need to ask themselves why.

Are they, as the Republicans like to argue, preternaturally anti-military? Is the only vet they like a vet who has railed on the military?

Clark is a dream candidate for Democrats. He is a liberal who also happens to have served in the military. His appeal is broad and would reach deep into the Red states.

Democrats should be haunted by their failure to give Clark a real hearing. We'll know they are serious about winning when they look back at 2004 and admit that hey, maybe Clark would have made a better candidate.

Or do Democrats prefer losing and whining to victory?

If you don't hear regrets about failing to seriously consider Clark, you'll know the answer.

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Robert Harbison - 12/16/2004

I agree. Add Dean into the mix and I doubt Bush would have come close to winning even WITH the vote tampering.

Donald Hughes - 11/15/2004

There were a lot of quotes that could have been used against him. Kerry at least had a record which was consistent and you could follow if you sat down and thought it through.

Clark really was all over the place - speaking at Republican fundraisers in 2001, praising the Iraq War strategy as a CNN correspondent, saying he would never have supported the war, saying he probably would have supported voting in favour of the war. He may have also had problems on the left, being a Reagan supporter. All of this could have been spun either way, but... Well...

Here's one selection:
Clark spent much of the Iraq war as an expert military commentator. Clark had reservations before the war [about the number of US troops needed for a fight with Saddam], but his reservations seemed to fade as American progress became apparent. Clark said that Saddam "absolutely" had weapons of mass destruction, adding, "I think they will be found. There's so much intelligence on this." In the April 10th London Times, Clark predicted that the American victory would alter the dynamics of the region: "Many Gulf states will hustle to praise their liberation from a sense of insecurity they were previously loath even to express." Clark praised the Anglo-American alliance, saying that Bush & Blair "should be proud of their resolve in the face of so much doubt.

Clark called for victory parades down the Mall, and in another column, cheered the spectacular display of coalition force: "American military power, especially when buttressed by Britain's, is virtually unchallengeable today. Take us on? Don't try!"
(Source: The New Yorker magazine, "Gen. Clark's Battles" Nov 17, 2003)

... There are other things, too. Kerry said he opposed gay marriage, and wanted Mass to ban it but was opposed to the Federal Marriage Amendment. And he did get a fair amount of crossover "no gay equality, yes Kerry" votes despite the media attention otherwise. Clark said "I welcomed the Massachusetts court decision with open arms" and set out his position on the issue as legal equality being the only acceptable outcome. Now, that's something I would have liked to see championed, but as a strategy for winning the Presidency it may not have been as wise.

Jonathan Dresner - 11/14/2004

Clark's military record was no more a shield against gutless smears than Kerry's was. Given that his military career would have been his only asset, once that got attacked, there would have been no fallback.

My regret is not about Clark specifically, but about a primary process that makes it impossible for a late-entrant candidate like Clark to get a serious viewing. Or for the views of actual Democrats to be represented by the candidates....