Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 20, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

WESLEY CLARK....A number of people have noted that although Howard Dean may have failed to win the Democratic primary this year, he nonetheless had an outsized impact on the race. Unlike ordinary losers who just fade away without making any real impact, Dean can claim to have affected the race in two big ways: first, by revolutionizing fundraising via the internet, and second, by providing a welcome injection of backbone into the campaign. He demonstrated that voters wanted someone who would go on the offensive, stay on the offensive, and make no apologies for it.

Today, Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris makes the same point about Wesley Clark. He's not just an ordinary loser, he's one who made a difference despite his loss:

Before he entered the race, Democrats were suffering from a peculiar cognitive dissonance on national security....This unwillingness to confront the issue of national security made it possible for Democrats to convince themselves that Howard Dean could beat President Bush.

As soon as General Clark entered the race, however, Democrats could no longer avoid the issue. General Clark leapt to the top of most national polls of likely Democratic voters even though he had no experience in elective office, little name recognition and no staff or money beyond what he was provided by a handful of amateur organizers. And this wasn't just a momentary bump; he stayed near the top of the polls for weeks.

Glastris makes a similar point about religion, which I'm not sure I buy, but I think he's right about national security. It's not all Clark's doing, but I do think Clark demonstrated that serious talk about national security was something Democrats both could and should do. That changed the dynamic of the race and will likely change the dynamic of the general election too.

When I decided to support Clark last year I did so knowing that it was a risky proposition. I liked his background and his policy ideas, especially on national security, but I also knew he was an untested campaigner and didn't have much time to learn on the job. And sure enough, he had a hard time finding his footing and avoiding the organizational problems and minor gaffes that can keep a campaign from ever catching fire.

But I don't regret it. He may not have won, but I do think he had an impact. If the Democrats win in November, I think that Clark, like Howard Dean, can take at least a small measure of credit for the victory.

Kevin Drum 10:41 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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