Clark's Inexperience Shows
Posted by Mary
Many people have commented on Howard Dean's gaffes, but I think that Wesley Clark has produced a gaffe that will be quite damaging in the election if he is the Democratic nominee. Earlier this month when Wesley Clark was interviewed by the conservative Manchester Union Leader, he obviously did not understand Roe v Wade and was trapped into agreeing with a policy that no sane pro-choice person would think okay. Here is the key section of the interview:
Clark: I don't think you should get the law involved in abortion--
McQuaid: At all?
McQuaid: Late-term abortion? No limits?
McQuaid: Anything up to delivery?
Clark: Nope, Nope.
McQuaid: Anything up to the head coming out of the womb?
Clark: I say that it's up to the woman and her doctor, her conscience. . . . You don't put the law in there.
This statement was immediately picked up by the RNC and now has created a fire-storm on the right. Since then, Clark has tried to tamp down the flames, but because he doesn't understand the nuances of this issue, he is still getting into trouble.
Clark's statements on abortion show that he has not thought through some of the key landmines that are lying on the road to the White House. TAPPED's Garance Franke-Ruta expresses the problem well.
All of which seems to suggest that Clark still hasn't come to understand the substance of this particular national controversy. I asked Bennett about Clark's statements as well. "It's learning to be a politician on the fly," he said. Clark "sometimes has trouble getting his thoughts into tidy packages" like a "slick," experienced politician.
Certainly, there are many things that can be learned on the fly while campaigning. But the fact that babies can be born early and survive and that not even Roe v. Wade supports unregulated abortion up until the moment of actual birth should not have been one of them. Bill Clinton, whom Clark often cites as a model, defended the pro-choice position while at the same time recognizing that most Americans are pro-choice, not pro-abortion. He wanted abortion to be "safe, legal, and rare." Abortion is one of the most controversial issues in politics, as Clark has doubtless discovered over the past month. But one of the tests of leadership is the ability to calm passions on inflammatory issues, rather than exacerbate them. The pro-life world is up in arms about Clark's comments, and the Union Leader interview will make brilliant fodder for Republican mailers in a general election contest, should Clark be on the Democratic ticket. President Bush's strategists have publicly declared a goal of pumping up the Evangelical vote in 2004; Clark's inflammatory comments can only help them.
More importantly for Clark, though, if he wants to assure women he is familiar enough with their concerns to warrant their support, he shouldn't be waiting until so late in the game to learn the basics.
Another point that she didn't cover that I also think is a big problem is not framing the issue correctly. As George Lakoff has repeatedly warned, do not use the frame that your opponents set because you will always be on the defensive. Clark evidently told a reporter that he wasn't going to appoint a "pro-life" judge. Using the term "pro-life" is definitely working within the conservative frame because the opposite of "pro-life" is "pro-death" not "pro-choice".
Although part of the Clark message is that he isn't just another "politician", his lack of understanding of domestic policies that would shape his presidency is clearly a problem. I'd advise General Clark to dive deep into some of the back issues of the American Prospect if he wants to have a grounding in the liberal philosophy that will help him talk about the policies he would support as a President.