Political pundits seem determined to talk right past Clark until he rears up and kicks them in the teeth. The beltway crowd is more tightly scripted than a corporate radio play list: "We're about to play some back to back Spice Girl Hillary hits, but first here's an Oldie but Goodie from Joe Biden, and don't dare touch that dial , we'll have some of that hot new Obama sound coming up for you shortly also!" Poor John Edwards isn't the freshest face on the block anymore.
That beltway only recognizes early momentum when they manufacture it themselves, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that they fail to recognize Wes Clark; after all they didn't "manufacture" him. Clark's sheer talent and ability always wins him some friends in high places, but the tail wind pushing Clark on essentially comes from the roots. At least that was true for most of two years since the 2004 Presidential Elections, but that now is changing, and that too is underreported. Wes Clark scrambles media signals. They can't really get a handle on General Clark because he doesn't fit neatly into the holes they already have pegged for Democratic Presidential candidates. It's amusing to watch them fumble pegging Clark when they do try; until I remember that "talking heads" still speak for real power in America. Then it stops being funny.
There's a lot to be said about the fallacy of political pundits and conventional wisdom about Wes Clark, too much in fact. So I'll narrow my focus to an almost startling disconnect that the pundits themselves make in those rare instances when they find themselves compelled to comment on Clark's possible presidential candidacy. They just can't make up their minds where Wes Clark's strongest support comes from. They are down right schizophrenic about it. Actually it's worse than that even, because they are also in denial about their illness. The blocks Clark draws support from are not that hard to assemble into a complete picture. It's not like one of those marathon jig saw puzzles that take over the dining room table while you try to sort it out. Basically, Wes Clark appeals to liberal Americans, Wes Clark appeals to moderate Americans, and Wes Clark appeals to conservative Americans. That about covers it, and the thing is, the pundits already know it. They know all of it, but somehow they just can't hold those pieces of information together in their heads, not all at the same time.
I believe the last time Chris Cillizza from the Washington Post's "The Fix" column actually mentioned Wes Clark as a Presidential contender was way back in December 2005, when he wrote: "Clark replaces Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold as the wildcard in the field, thanks to the fervor and energy for him among some in the party's liberal base, particularly Internet activists" Chris also said this then about Clark "On paper, Clark's resume is unmatched if defense and foreign policy issues are still dominating the national landscape in three years time. " That is increasingly looking like a safe bet Chris.
More recently, on October 12th, Chuck Todd in the National Journal wrote a few words about Wes Clark's potential 2008 chances: "He's tried to become the surrogate/endorser/fundraiser-in-chief for military vet candidates. We're not sure it's worked." Well I beg to differ with Chuck, but with hindsight now available after the mid term elections, he may differ also. Todd wrote that before General Clark's featured role in "Because of Iraq", VoteVets powerful national 2006 campaign ad. And of course Wes Clark was the first National Democrat to strongly back Jim Webb in Virginia, back when Webb was considered a long shot to even win the Democratic Primary. Plus Clark worked hard for Democratic Vets Joe Sestak, and Patrick Murphy, and Chris Carney in Pennsylvania, who all took seats away from Republican incumbents in the House of Representatives. Even when Democratic Vets supported by Clark lost, like Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, or Eric Massa in Western New York, the races were tight, and the Democratic Party came out of them all stronger than they have been in years.
So I want to get back to that "startling disconnect" I mention above. Don't any of these pundits wonder what is right (as opposed to wrong) with this picture? The same beltway pundits who are so eager to consign the netroots to a separate, but unequal, political basement waiting room, for being too leftist for the mainstream Democratic Party, are well aware of Wes Clark's support from that activist constituency. They are also well aware of Wes Clark's support for and from America's military Veterans, a constituency typically thought to be significantly more conservative and less Democratic as a group than most. These pundits watched Wes Clark welcomed by Ned Lamont's campaign for the United States Senate on one day, and welcomed by Harold Ford's campaign for the United States Senate on the next day, but none of them can add two plus two together?
Meanwhile tired conventional wisdom continues to be spun. Anna Quindlen, in the October 30th issue of Newsweek, makes the case for Hillary Clinton in 2008 while conceding: "the biggest problem Senator Clinton may have is with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party". According to Quindlen, that's because, among other idealistic liberal litmus tests for winning their support, Hillary flunks on Iraq. When describing what Democratic Liberals yearn for in 2008 Quindlen has this to say: "Right now that means a candidate who did not vote for the Iraq war."
I can think of a Democratic General who not only didn't vote for the Iraq war, he warned Congress against it before Congress ever voted. That could be one of the reasons why Wesley Clark consistently wins far greater respect and support at universally regarded as liberal Democratic activist sites like Daily Kos and Democratic Underground than does Hillary Clinton. While on one hand Quindlen frets about Hillary Clinton's tepid support from liberals, she argues for her electability by pointing out: "She only has to take the states that John Kerry took, and then one more". Funny, weren't they saying the same thing about John Kerry in 2004? He only has to take the same states that Al Gore took, and then one more? Rounding down, that's closer to a 15 state strategy than a 50 state strategy (Kerry actually took 19 Sates and the District of Columbia) and to my mind it's a tacit acknowledgment that Hillary Clinton's hoped for path to victory is to hold onto her own base, despite tepid support from liberal activists, while trying to pick off a couple of the Republican States that Democrats have failed to win in over a decade. That strategy of course opens the door for Republicans, under McCain, to take almost all of their own States for granted while they sail off to go raiding in bluer waters.
Maybe Hillary can pull it off, maybe, if you like to gamble, but I don't like the odds. Call me odd I know, but somehow the idea of running a candidate who didn't vote for the Iraq War, who motivates a strong element of the Democratic activist base, and who appeals to veterans and military voters, has a certain compelling logic to it. John Kerry defined himself as a Vietnam Veteran, some are likely to say, and look where it got him. True, but John Kerry was defined by his opponent as an elite, rich, liberal Massachusetts former war protester, which kind of watered down Kerry's appeal to that relevant constituency in conservative states. Consider these comments from the November 11th Arkansas Times:
"Now that the 2006 elections are over, Gen. Wesley Clark is turning his attention toward deciding to run for president. Sources tell the Arkansas Times that Clark has said he will make his decision within the next two months.
Clark's spokesman, Erick Mullen, said, "That's true, but we don't have a timeline for when a decision will be made just yet."
Mullen added, "All options are on the table. Gen. Clark was the number-one requested surrogate, especially in red states and swing states during this cycle."
One might think that political pundits would at least be interested in talking about the prospects of a potential Democratic Presidential Candidate who opposed the War in Iraq AND has strong National Security credentials; who has substantial liberal activist support AND is requested by Democrats to campaign in the most conservative districts in the nation. One would think so, but first you have to find such a Presidential candidate, which is pretty damn hard to do if you refuse to look at the Donkey in the room.
Wesley Clark for President 2008.
orig. link - Democratic Underground