Clark's Ability to Excite the Base
Posted by Mary
Many Democrats, myself included, subscribe to the Anyone But Bush school of Democratic politics. We look at the current candidates and feel that any one of them would do a better job than Bush. This year pragmatism wins over idealism because it is so clear that our country and our world will be much worse off with a second Bush term. The damage to our security by the "my-way-or-the-highway" policies, the massive rip-off of our national treasury by the plutocrats, the staggering debt that will ultimately be the inheritance of our children and the devastation to our environment are all reasons that convince me that I'll support any candidate that the Democrats put up.
Yet, I hope that the Democratic primaries produces the best candidate for exciting people because it is going to take an enormous amount of passion and energy to educate people about the issues in a one-on-one fashion and to get people out to vote. Bush and his supporters know they must win at all costs because it is increasingly obvious that they have badly abused our trust and it is certain that there will be extensive investigations and possibly criminal charges if they lose their hold on all levers of power. They are extremely motivated to win. This means we must be even more motivated. So finding a candidate who appeals to lots of people is essential if we are to find the passion and the energy we need to have millions of people actively working to elect the Democratic candidate. And that candidate will have to give a reason for people to really want to work for him and vote for him, and not just to vote against Bush.
It is under this perspective that I'd like to examine retired General Wesley Clark's potential for exciting the activist base. Clark has an impressive number of meetups for someone who entered the race late (second only to Dean) and so has generated lots of excitement with people who are already paying attention.
General Clark has also garnered much positive attention in the blogosphere especially by some of the more influential bloggers many who are more centrist. The list includes Amy Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias, Kevin Drum, Joshua Micah Marshall, and Ruy Teixeira. They like him both because of his military background which creates a credible Democratic response to the perceived weakness of Democrats on national security and his evident intelligence.
Digby has been thinking deeply about how politics today are driven by style over substance and this explains both the ability of Bush to be perceived as a strong leader as well as the victory of the ultimate action hero toy as governor of California. Digby's endorsement of Clark was predicated by the fact that he believes Clark is the one candidate in the Democratic field that image-wise can tarnish the carefully crafted image of Bush as Commander in Chief and strong leader.
We Democrats, however, have to find candidates who are not only brilliant, passionate and eminently qualified, which the base insists upon, but we must also pick someone who has appealing looks, an unassailable personal biography, an engaging personality, Southern roots and a heroic, masculine image so that the clueless swing voters and the giggling bimbos of the press have something to keep them sufficiently entertained during those long boring speeches with all the big words.
Clark is smart, to be sure, but he's got all the other good stuff, too.
He's got a very high Q rating and handles the press with the aplomb of a film star. He has a winning smile and an easy laugh. He knows how to speak in simple terms about complex issues. He is a proven military hero, a respected world leader, a southerner and a self made man who worked hard and succeeded at everything he tried.
In other words, he is the man who George W. Bush is pretending to be.
Yet, can Clark capture the activist liberal base? Can he excite them and get them motivated enough to go out and pound the pavement? It is probably too early to tell, but right now it is Dean that has most energized the base. And although Michael Moore urged Clark to run, there are those on the left who are not happy with the thought of a military man who has never run for any office before putting himself up for the Presidency. This strikes them as a sign of hubris since he has put himself forward as a white-knight savior of the country much in the way Schwarzenegger represented himself as the savior of California.
Michael Kinsley expressed this skepticism in his October 9th column in Slate:
So the general got off his horse, gazed at the landscape, and decided to grant the gift of his person to the Democrats. By now he's got the basic philosophy down pat, and he has his people working to flesh out the programmatic stuff. Furthermore, he knows who to go to. He listens to so-and-so, Clark supporters reassure doubters. There is no doubt that a President Clark would have sound, mainstream-liberal policies on all matters, reflecting the best thinking of the finest minds in every field. He may not yet know what he thinks about school vouchers, or Medicare reform, or Israeli settlements in occupied territory. But I know.
Many on the left aren't looking for a hero; they are looking for a leader that involves them in the process. They want to be part of the solution, and dislike intensely the governing style of Bush that says, don't worry, we'll take care of it all while you go out and shop. They want to have a voice and a say in issues that affect their lives. And they want to see someone who is aware of the consequences of his policies.
So one of the questions about Clark is what style of leadership does he represent? And is he aware of the people that he is leading? From my readings, he does much better on this front than one might expect. It is clear from testimonials he believes that leadership isn't a matter of automatically demanding people obey you because of your position, but rather is based on respect that has been earned. Compare this to Bush's stated declarations that it would be nice to have a dictatorship, as long as the dictator was him.
Then there are those on the left that distrust Clark because of his military record. They are unlikely to work very hard for his election. However, they are also most likely not to support Howard Dean because he would also be too conservative for their taste.
It is my assessment that the best Democratic candidates to go up against Bush are either Dean or Clark. Much of what will eventually defeat Bush consists of making sure people see the failure of his policies and having a candidate that has a clear, compelling and hopeful reason for people to vote for him. After selecting our candidate, it will be important to find ways to help spread messages that get people excited and passionate about our candidate. And it will be very important to counteract the slime that will be used to undercut the integrity of our candidate.