Requiem for a Dream

Wesley Clark and John Edwards must be running for vice president, or perhaps a seat in the Kerry cabinet. In any case, it’s clear that the two main challengers are cowed by the Kerry freight train, unwilling to use their mountain of “oppo research” on Kerry, yet unwilling to withdraw from the race lest some 11th-hour revelation critically wound the eventual nominee.

I supported Wesley Clark, the brilliiant, driven general with the stellar resume, believing he was the only candidate who could have jousted with President Bush from a position of strength. Indeed, Clark was supposed to bring together all the positive elements of the other candidates — a Southern heritage, veteran status, a history of selfless public service, strength on national security, sensible domestic policy, a gifted mind, etc., etc. — to form a winning candidacy.

What no one knew, however, was how badly Clark’s foresight and political instincts would fail him once the time came to make the transition from soldier/teacher/businessman/military analyst to political candidate.

As far as foresight goes, I was dismayed when Clark refused to even acknowledge he had become a Democrat in the months before he launched his campaign. As a result, questions about whether he was a “real” Democrat dogged his campaign from the outset. And when Clark did begin his run, it became horribly apparent that he actually was undecided until the last minute, having done none of the “contingency planning” he liked to refer to so often in the military.

Clark jumped into the race without a plan, with little campaign groundwork, and without having studied the domestic issues that inevitably arise in every presidential race. It was almost as if he thought everything would just fall into place for him. That’s appalling judgement, and while September may seem like ancient history, it is because of Clark’s ill-preparedness that his campaign always seemed a step behind everyone else.

In the Democratic debates, Clark’s anemic answers to domestic policy questions reminded me, most painfully, of Governor Bush in 2000. Here was a top West Point Cadet and Oxford Scholar who’d had months to form positions on the issues, and he was winging it.

Fast-forward to last weekend’s meeting of the Party faithful in Virginia. John Kerry had skillfully worked the crowd, bashing Bush’s policies while assuming a presidential air. Next up, with his campaign on life support, Wesley Clark took the stage and channeled Howard Dean. He forcefully declared that “the Republicans stole the election of 2000! If the voters of the Old Dominion give me a chance, I’ll take back the presidency!”

The speech came a day after Clark had accused John Edwards of standing with special interests against veterans, a shameful accusation for which Edwards deserves an apology.

Last weekend marked a saddening loss of stature for a man whom I greatly admire and respect. Clark could have rallied and eventually won by confronting voters with the stark (but real) choices that distinguished himself from the other candidates. He should have done so, as he promised, “in the highest tradition of democratic dialogue.” Instead, he hastened his own demise by embracing cynical politics of distortion.

I devoted my time to the Draft Clark movement, and donated to the Clark campaign twice (including a few days ago). But let’s face it: the jig is up. The nomination, barring botox, is lost.

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