Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

WHY I LIKE WES CLARK....Why did I decide to support Wes Clark for president? That's obviously a combination of what I think about Clark and what I think about the rest of the candidates, and I'll try to cover both sides here without making this too long. Let's start with Clark.

On a policy level, I usually look at three areas but not in White Paper detail. I want to know general tone and direction, not the intricacies of how they're all going to finance their competing healthcare plans. So here's how Clark stacks up on policy:

  • Economic issues. After three years of George Bush, I have a low bar here: I just want a candidate whose ideas are not obviously insane. (Yes, that's what it's come to.) All of the candidates qualify on that score, although I think Clark is smart not to suggest repealing the middle class parts of the Bush tax cut and smart to emphasize some areas of spending cutbacks as well as tax increases. His position on free trade seems reasonable too, although I haven't seen a definitive statement about it from him.

  • Social issues. I think this is an area where Clark shines. His basic instincts are the ones that liberals look for "I am pro-choice, I am pro-affirmative action, I am pro-environment, pro-health," as he famously said in the first debate but at the same time he seems to understand that you can frame these issues as ones of basic fairness and security without gratuitously making them into culture war issues. I like that.

  • Foreign policy. This is probably the #1 issue in the 2004 election, and it's one where Clark's experience gives him credibility that the other candidates lack. It's true that most of the Democratic candidates say that they're committed to restoring our international relationships, but Clark is a guy who's actually fought a war with an international coalition and knows what a huge pain in the ass it is. When the other guys talk about alliances, I sometimes wonder if they really believe what they're saying, but when Clark talks about it I know that he believes what he's saying. What's more, I think he can convince the electorate that he's right about this and George Bush isn't.

    Clark also does a pretty good balancing job. One of the fundamental problems with opposition is that you spend most of your time attacking the guy currently in office. That's fine, it's the way the game is played. But you also need to make it clear that you have a positive plan to make things better, and Clark does that pretty well. I think it could still use some work, but overall his ideas for fighting terrorism seem realistic, toughminded, and sensible.

Aside from policy stands, Clark has a lot of other things to recommend him too. His personality is attractive and levelheaded, he "oozes sincerity," he's a good speaker, and his character and judgment are sound.

In addition, he is also George Bush's worst nightmare. So not only do I think he would be a very good, liberal president at a policy level, but I also like his character and I think he's the most electable of the candidates. What more could I ask for?


So how about the rest of the field? I want to make it clear that I have nothing against any of the major candidates and would support any of them against George Bush. In other words, I'm not trying to smack any of them down. Still, with that said, here's what I think of them.

Howard Dean: I like Dean's energy, I like his passion, and I like the fact that he's obviously not afraid to take on George Bush with gusto. But there's a flip side to this, and I think you can see them both in his "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks" remark. On the one hand, he was making a smart observation: these guys ought to vote for Democrats and we shouldn't alienate them. But on the other hand, it was a really, really stupid way to make his point and he was too stubborn to back down from it until it had already done him a bunch of damage.

So while I don't have any huge policy differences with him although he's sounding a little too sincere in his opposition to free trade these days his character seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Too much of his appeal is built on anger, he often comes across as defensive and perhaps a little bitter to people who aren't true believers in the first place, and I think he'd get flattened by Karl Rove's $200 million war chest. I feel bad saying that, but it's my best guess.

John Kerry: I just can't warm to the guy. All politicians waffle on their positions, but Kerry too often seems like he's waffling. Fair or not, his positions often seem a little too finely calibrated and his speaking style a little too calculated. Sorry.

Joe Lieberman: I don't have the instinctive revulsion toward Lieberman that a lot of liberals seem to have, but at the same time he's just too far from my own positions to consider seriously.

Dick Gephardt: He's run before, and he's lost before. I don't think he'd do any better this time.

John Edwards: I like Edwards a lot, but he just hasn't been able to gain any traction. I don't know why, but that's the way it goes sometimes. He'd make a great VP, or a great presidential candidate sometime down the road. Just not this year.

Kucinich, Sharpton, Moseley Braun: None of them have a chance of winning, so I just haven't paid any attention to them. Sorry, but life's too short.

Kevin Drum 6:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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