The Case for Clark 08: Best if Used before 10/07
by Tom Rinaldo, Wed Aug 01, 2007 at 04:00:18 AM EDT
Two things the media loves nowadays are sports and reality TV. No wonder they are so enthralled by Presidential contests. What could possibly be better than two fields of high profile celebrities competing in a nonstop horserace over 18 months to win the Super Bowl of Politics? A serious discussion of the critical issues facing both our nation and the world? Nah, doesn't even come close. Meet the Press was never able to muster the ratings that Survivor has. So it's no surprise that General Wesley Clark's potential 2008 run for President gets virtually no mention in the press. He's not on their chosen island.
But what about us Democrats? We aren't covering 2008 Presidential races, we're staging one. In theory we get to pick our candidates. Currently we have a nice group of announced ones. Wes Clark isn't in that group, and neither is Al Gore or Russ Feingold. In Feingold's case the reason is clear; early on he decided against running this year. Al Gore has done all he can to discourage speculation about him running for President, other than stating that under no circumstances will he run. So of course that encourages speculation about Al Gore running for President. That leaves Wes Clark, who candidly admits that he would like to run for President this year, if he can line up enough support. Which, it seems, discourages some Democrats from speculating about Clark.
What's wrong with this picture? Let's start with Wes Clark's own recent comments on the Charlie Rose show, which offered his fullest explanation to date for why he is not already in the race:
"If you run the second time, you, you want to really have a shot at winning, and that means you've got to have the money and the organization behind you. And I've worked to, on this from several different angles and until and unless I believe that there's a genuine candidacy out there, I can't do this. I, it, it's not enough to just go out there and say, 'I'm running, because I believe in it.' There's a lot of people who want me to run, but I haven't met the preconditions I've set for myself."
On the surface Clark's answer seems to answer the question I posed; there's nothing wrong with the picture. If Wes Clark hasn't fulfilled the preconditions he set for having a real shot at winning, why should other Democrats consider his chances? The answer to that is simple, although complex to explain. In short, we are not spectators to this race, nor passive consumers. This is our Party and it's our race. Mainstream media serves their predigested version of news to consumers, but we are the legitimate news makers here. Quite literally, we don't "subscribe" to the views of the Democratic Party because we believe our views should be deliverd in the opposite direction, from members to the leaders, as much as if not more than the other way around.
Bottom line; whether or not Wes Clark achieves his preconditions to run for President is within our ability to effect, if enough of us are motivated to do so. How we can do so is a matter I'll discuss later, but now is the time to dwell on a Wes Clark run for President, while it remains possible if enough of us care enough to make it happen. Motivation is almost an etherial thing, kind of like an artist's muse, except it visits everyone. It takes more than cold logic to motivate people into action. Logic counts, but so doesdesire, and hope, and sometimes also faith. People accomplish amazing things, often against strong odds, if they are sufficiently motivated. In politics the need for logic can't be overestimated. The foundation for victory is a good strategy. Wes Clark understands that, hence his comments above. His chance to win must be real, he will not run for President on a wing and a prayor. Clark says he isn't there yet in his estimation, that is the glass half empty. And he hasn't concluded that he can not get there yet, that is the glass half full.
What would, or should, motivate Democrats at this relatively late date, to help Wes Clark meet his remaining preconditions to enter the race? By Democrats I mean all of us; grassroots activists, Democratic committee members at every level of the Party in every state, Democrats who hold elected office high and low, Democrats with campaign organizational skill, and the people who donate money to Democratic presidential campaigns. I am brash enough to include all of the above because on the eve of the second Yearly Kos, it's clear "all of the above" pay close attention to what bloggers have to say, they can no longer afford not to. We no longer talk only to ourselves.
Is the case for Clark 08 strong enough to justify the effort to keep that option viable? Here is my overview for why I think it is, hopefully others can fill in pieces that undoubtably I will miss. The heart of the matter is what Wes Clark uniquely offers our party and America. If that is not significant it matters less if he actually runs. The heart of this Diary addresses that point, but a hurdle must be be cleared first. Is it too late to even care, has the train already left the station for Clark without him on board? Clearly Wes Clark does not believe so, or he would not have answered this question from Ed Shultz yesterday the way that he did:
Ed Schultz: But you're still looking at it. Can we say that?
GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Still looking at it, and I'm still, I think, part of the overall equation. Look, I've got a passion for this country. I think the country's (drop out) some leadership that's taken it in some tragic mistaken directions. And I'd like to do my part as an American citizen and a former American soldier to do what I can to put us on the right track.
Given the right resourses, resourses Clark thinks he still may be able to obtain, Wes Clark believes he can still make a competitive run for President. I agree with the General, and the fact that he has so far refused to enter the presidential race because those preconditions have not yet been met even though he obviously wants to, adds credence to a conclusion that General Clark is taking a cold hard look at this, he is far from viewing his options through rose colored glasses. He sees a way it can happen, if the right pieces fall into place. So assuming that they did,, what would Clark be faced with? To me that depends on whether or not Al Gore decides to run for President in the Democratic primaries. I start with several premises:
1) In order for Wes Clark to now have a realistic chance to win the Democratic nomination, Al Gore can't also enter the contest.
2) It is increasingly unlikely that Al Gore will enter the Democratic primaries.
3) Wes Clark can appeal to many voters who would be inclined to support Al Gore over the current field.
I wrote an entire diary on this theme so to save space I will not repeat those arguments here. Please see "Gore, Clark, Kos, and the 2008 Elections":
There would not be a strong Draft Gore movement, given Gore's ambivalence about moving back into politics, if a solid consensus existed that our Democratic field can't meaningfully be improved on, or that whoever emerges from it would be our best bet for winning big in November. John Edwards has moved hard to the left since he ran in 2004, which although to my liking, threatens to cost him some of his previous moderate support which might be a factor in his current third place standing in polls of Democrats, and could complicate his efforts to capture the center as our nominee come November, should Republicans run someone like Guiliani. Barack Obama is less easily ideologically pegged, but I am concerned he will never adequately shake a sense that he is still too inexperienced to elevate to President of the United States, with the accompanying status of Commander in Chief of America's Armed Forces.
To me Hillary Clinton polling strong so far compared to Obama and Edwards speaks more to the weakness of our field than its strength. Many Democrats worry about the extent of Hillary's unpopularity with the larger public, knowing that Republicans have been geared up to take her on for over a decade. Plus she's alienated much of the liberal base that usually drives Democratic primary results. Yet she is much more than holding her own because, I believe, she's the only leading Democratic candidate who immediately comes across as a plausible Commander in Chief. Al Gore, were he running, could challenge her on those grounds, and so could Wesley Clark.
Clearly Gore, with his high public profile and standing in the Party, would be a top contender the instant he entered the race, a feat Wes Clark could not instantly replicate. But the untapped support Clark has to draw on is only matched or exceeded by Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. Back in December when most activists thought Clark would run, he was in a statistical tie for popularity in Kos polls with Edwards and Obama. They scored 26% support and Clark had 24%, despite only getting a tenth of the media attention that Edwards and Obama were then receiving. Wes Clark would rise above the remainder of the field upon entry, establishing himself as the designated dark horse in the race. And he would build from there, especially if it became clearer that Al Gore is not going to run.
At some point this fall, if Gore doesn't surprise me and enter before then; folks will know it's not going to happen. By November the way will clear for Clark to move up again, tapping into support that till then held out for Gore. That leaves him plenty of time. Clark's rise to the top tier might be aided by a reexamination of a current front tier candidate who is underperforming relative to Clinton. If Wes Clark can stand up to Hillary Clinton on a debate stage and out expert her on the issues, increasingly he'll be looked at as the only progressive candidate who can stop her from winning. Late breaking momentum is usually what has won primary races in the past. Most candidates who were front runners at this stage in the race went on to lose, often badly.
Above I sketched a path that could take Wes Clark to victory in the primaries, even factoring in a late start, even acknowledging that he won't immediately generate the same enthusiasm that Al Gore could entering late. To me it is all entirely plausible, if Wes Clark meets the preconditions he has set to enter the race, and using his own words "that means you've got to have the money and the organization behind you."
One advantage Wes Clark has over the announced Democrats concerning money is simple but significant none the less. Because Wes Clark hasn't set up an exploratory committee, he hasn't tapped out a single donor for their maximum legal contribution to his campaign. Anyone can help Clark's campaign once it starts, by writing him a check for $2,300. Many donors don't contribute that much over an entire campaign, but thousands max out immediately with their first contribution. Our current candidates have been to that well and can not legally return, but Clark can fill his bucket there. Even so, something is lacking or Clark would be announcing his candidacy now rather than commenting on preconditions.
I've argued why it isn't intrinsically too late for Clark to enter the race for President. My goal now, before it is too late, is to focus attention on why Wes Clark deserves more support if Democrats know what is good for us. Lets start with a few things that should be obvious. Wes Clark got it right about not invading Iraq, he owes no one an apology for his previous position, and getting it right the first time in matters of war and peace is a good thing to seek in a potential President. And Clark has it right on Iran too, though hopefully our nation will wake up in time this time. Unlike our current candidates other than Bill Richardson, Wes Clark doesn't use a career in Congress as a launching pad for his campaign. Our track record is poor with those who have. With the exception of Chris Dodd, who enlisted in the Army National Guard and served in the Army Reserves, none of our candidates are veterans and only Wes Clark served active duty in a war zone. Does a Democrat have to have been a veteran in order to win the White House? Obviously no, but in today's political enviroment, when Republicans shamelessly invoke calls to "support our troops", it offers us an advantage if our candidate has been one.
But of course Wes Clark did more than just serve his country on active duty; he served 34 years helping rebuild our Army after the Viet Nam War, rising to the rank of 4 Star General and N.A.T O. Supreme Commander. Wes Clark offers the Democratic Party National Security credentials in a candidate we never dreamed of having (prior to his 2004 run anyway) during the life time of almost anyone reading this diary. before 2004, you have to go back to the early 1970's to find a time in American history where national security credentials were as important to the qualifications of a President as they are today. Just listen to Republican rumblings. Already Rudi Guiliani is calling Democrats "the nanny party". A long and poorly distinguished line of Republican chicken hawks will not end with Bush and Cheney as candidates, new recruits stand ready to foist their hypocricy on America.
"But this has already been tried", Wes Clark's detractors tend to say. "Clark ran as the Democrat's General back in 2004, and he lost. It is time to turn that page." To which I say, exactly. Why is it so few seem willing to acknowledge that while Wes Clark did remarkably well as a rank novice politician back in 2004, he is no longer the same candidate that he was back then, since then Clark has grown greatly in his new calling for America; perhaps it is Clark's detractors who are stuck on an old page.
Maybe Party rain makers would do well to tune in closer to our netroots. We have the track record for recognizing the force of the future breaking. We have the track record of knowing when it's time to fight. We knew that the corporate relief bankruptcy bills that some of our Senators now apologize for approving were middle class poison, at the time. We knew that the IWR was a blank check for Bush to attack Iraq, at the time. Unlike Senator Schumer, we knew, at the time, that Democrats needed to filibuster Judge Alito when George Bush nominated him for the Supreme Court. It didn't take us years to figure that out. It doesn't take us years to see the obvious. There is no Democrat today more able than Wes Clark at coming back at Republicans stronger than they can attack him in the first place, and he usually manages to do it with a winning smile. Ask the netroots, we cheer him on in our blogs every time he does. Evaluating Wes Clark's potential as a candidate today solely from his first few months as a politician in 2003, makes as much sense as deciding how fluently someone will later speak Spanish after their first lesson
Even if some rain makers in the Democratic Party won't acknowledge it, we saw how Wes Clark covered Kerry's back in 2004, and how he fought for our Congressional candidates in districts big and small to help Democrats retake Congress in 2006. We see what Clark is capable of when he gets sufficient support because we are the ones who have given that support. And we know how extraordinary a gift it is to have a candidate, who served 34 years in the military, capable of winning the deep loyalty of anti-war progressives and security dads alike.
Wes Clark not only served our Party well these last four years, he's been a critical agent of change within it, helping engineer a sea shift of support that can lead to solid Democratic majorities for a generation to come. Long before the so called revolt of the Generals against Donald Rumsfeld; there was General Clark in 2003, calling for Rumsfeld to be fired. And when Republicans once again played their wedge politics card, seeking to align themselves with the men and women in uniform whose lives in reality they showed little true regard for, there was General Clark traveling around the nation from college campuses to Foreign legion halls proclaiming that "We Democrats love the men and women serving in uniform", all the while exposing how Republicans took the lives of those men and women for granted; all the while undermining the legitimacy of the war that the same Republicans sent our troops off to fight and die in, to get maimed in without sufficient body armor, only to be left to rot inside under funded veteran hospitals upon their return home, if they returned at all. When suddenly Republican candidates for Congress woke up to see hard hitting ads exposing their real lack of support for our troops on their TV, with the Iraq and Afghanistan vets of VoteOrg.com calling them out to their faces to the voters of their districts, it was Wes Clark's hand behind the scenes that helped VoteVets.org pull that off.
Before we had Democrats like James Webb, an ex Republican Navy man, run for the U.S. Senate after winning a primary against a Party backed opponent with netroots support, Wes Clark came first, breaking down the knee jerk resistance some liberals felt for supporting a career military man who once supported Reagan. Clark was Webb's earliest major supporter in Virginia, back when that support was hard to come by. And before former Navy Commander Eric Massa became a certified kossack, and started blogging on Daily Kos each week, calling out Bill O'Reilly to the strong cheers of fellow Kos members, he was Wes Clark's top aid in the Balkans. It was Wes Clark who first backed Eric Massa, helping him enter politics.
Did it help Democrats win seats in conservative districts in 2006, to have Wes Clark as a commentator on the most widely viewed news network in their neck of the woods, covering their backs, taking the worse that FOX could throw at him and besting them every time? You know it did, and Clark knew exactly what he was doing there and why. Would it help our chances in 2008 to have a Democratic candidate for President who has already defined himself positively to millions of FOX viewers? You tell me.
Wes Clark always has the courage of his convictions and he stands out with Democrats like Webb and Massa for being fearless in that regard. It's a quality Americans respond to when they find it. It's straight talking, it's basic respect for Democracy, it's leadership, and it's a commitment to an ideal larger than oneself. Anyone who knows Wes Clark knows he isn't in this for himself, and that's a quality Americans respond to when they find it also. Are all these qualities unique to Wes Clark? Of course not, there are many fine Democrats, some of them are already running for President. But a Clark candidacy now brings our Party unique opportunities that we should think long and hard on before throwing them away without finding out what Wes Clark can do for us.
General Clark will address Yearly Kos in a keynote address Friday morning. Let's see who is listening. It won't only be lowly bloggers like me present in that room. There's a theory about the six degrees of separation Starting with those who fill that room on Friday we may not need to go half that distance, a third might suffice. Look around at that crowd Friday if you are fortunate enough to be there, or watching from an internet hook up. More than one person present will know more than one person present, who has it within his or her means to help Wes Clark reach his preconditions to run for President. If you are not one of them you might know someone who is. That's the third degree of separation. reaching the right person in that chain could alter the course of this Presidential race. Think about that while you watch Wes Clark speak on Friday.