Wednesday, July 09, 2003

For those few who aren't aware of it, daily Kos is probably the best place right now for discussion of the Democratic race, and one of the chief reasons are the comments threads. Apparently they've attracted a bit of attention, because one of the larger of said theads attracted the Attention of Wesley Clark Jr. discussing the possibility of his father entering the race.

The comments by Mr. Clark Jr. are interesting, to say the least. He highlights his father's liberal credentials, his multilateralism, and some very disturbing thoughts about the Republican convention in NYC, which he believes is designed to cause a riot similar to the Chicago '68 riot.

The problem, unfortunately, is that I don't necessarily think that the Clark candidacy will be an unchallenged "good thing".

First, it's going to turn into a battle of activism between Clark and Dean... I doubt that eithers' adherents are going to "cross the floor" easily, and this will very likely lead to a lot of bad blood between the two camps. While I (somewhat) agree with the notion that Deanies are unlikely to bail out given the current situation, I think that the situation with Clark vs. Dean is very different. It's going to be a tough battle, even without Kerry, and bridges may get burned. This could also be a problem because of the Dean campaign's success in employing innovative techniques (like the meetups, tight connections with online liberals, and the "drips and draps" donation scheme that has netted Dean so much cash). While there's no doubt that Clark will employ those ideas, those individual ideas are less important than the brilliant political strategists that came up with them (Joe Trippi and his team). If they decide that they won't play ball with Clark, that will be a huge blow. The Dean campaign is proof that Trippi may be the Democrats' Rove.

Second, there's the base. I don't see this as a huge problem, but there is going to be some number of people within the Democratic base who are going to say "General? Ugh!" and turn away. I doubt this will have a serious impact, but it might have some impact on the number of partisan activists that Clark can bring into the fray.

Third, there's the problem of optics. The "Democrats are so desperate they need to bring in an outside" line is going to have some traction. It just is. It shouldn't, but keep in mind how many stupid things the Republicans have been able to hang on the Democrats in the past, and how the meme of the "weak field" has exploded across Washington and the media. Wesley Clark is going to face a serious uphill battle fighting this, and there's no doubt it'll be a Republican talking point. It was even on the Daily Show last night, when Jon Stewart was talking to that Fox News guy.

(There's another question. What the hell is up with Jon inviting a googleplex of conservatives onto his show? Is his producer afraid of looking liberal? Are they getting hate mail? Is Viacom leaning on them? What?)

In an election where there's no doubt that the voters will be looking for security and where Bush will be promising the moon in order to make them believe he can provide it, an outsider may be perceived as somewhat threatening. Normally outsiders do well in American politics, but this is not going to be a normal presidential election.

Finally, and related to the previous point, is the problem of Clark's inexperience. The Republicans are going to attack his lack of political experience, and it's going to be hard to explain away. Were Bush not Bush, Clark could probably get away with saying that he was going to bring in those with political expertise to advise him. Indeed, I have no doubt that that is what he will do. As it is, however, he will be up against a President that embodies that concept in the minds of the voters; two "CEO presidents" may not play well. This may be accidently accentuated by both the media and the activists taking pains to portray Clark as an outsider in order to best build their narrative. This may lose Clark some moderates. It may lose him a lot of moderates.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not against Clark per se any more than I'm against Dean, but the sheer unusualness of both of their campaigns(?) will have repercussions. This isn't 2000- the Wurlitzer will not have free reign this time around, and Democrats will not let Republican oppo research run the show. Still, these factors should be taken into consideration.

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