(Really nice picture of him on the NYTimes site, by the by.)
A lot of this, I think, has to do with the growing perceived weakness of the President. Clark may have been being cagey because he wanted to make his announcement an event, but I think that he really wasn't sure whether he was going to run in 2004, because it may have been wiser to hold off and go up against (what would have seemed this summer as) an infinitely weaker opposition in 2008.
Most commentators, noticeably Kos, have come to the conclusion that it'll be a Dean/Clark/Geph/Leiberman battle, but I'm not willing to count out anybody yet; even Edwards could gain some momentum if events provide the opportunity, and any of the "big contenders" could easily flame out.
Kos, by the way, paints a a disturbing picture about a possible Clark campaign operative:
And remember Chris Lehane, who I called an asshole yesterday? Remember how I hoped he wouldn't end up on the Clark campaign, because he was such an asshole?So it's gonna be dirty, and it's gonna be Clark v. Dean. Kos' conclusion is that "it's not looking like a Dean/Clark or Clark/Dean ticket will be viable" and "keep an eye out for the competing Draft teams"... these bother me enough, but I can say with absolute certainty that the best and brightest hope that Bush has isn't a Dean candidacy (as certain Republicans really, really want us to believe)... it's a bruising, nasty, mudslinging primary battle that leaves the victor wounded and battered.
Well, Lehane and Fabiani are business partners. In fact, they are known as the "Masters of Disaster", specializing in public relations damage control. With campaigns, their MO is to create such disasters -- for their opponents, by tearing them down....Now with his Fabiani near the top of Clark's organization, it shouldn't be long before Lehane is working right alongside him.
The Clark plan is probably simple enough -- set themselves up as the anti-Dean. They probably figure Dean will take care of Gephardt (Iowa) and Kerry (NH) all by himself. So they'll give Dean a temporary pass and train their guns on Edwards and Lieberman. (Clark's announcement date was strategically timed to drown out Edwards' effort -- something I previously missed.)
If Kos is right, the Clark campaign may be on the verge of giving that to him. That would mean that instead of saving the Democrats' chances in 2004, Clark (his campaign, if not the man) will bury them. If you're a Democrat, then it doesn't matter who you support: that scenario must be avoided at all costs, even if somebody has to roll over.
Bottom line: any one candidate's political ambitions pales in the face of the need to get Bush out. It's a question of what the country will look like in 2008, and returns us to the truth of what one of the most famous Democrats told America: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".