View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Thursday, January 15, 2004

Richard Cohen's Nightmare

Clark may be able to get a crowd to respond to red meat. But it's basically Dean's shtick. Calling the President, literally, "unpatriotic" is unlikely to turn on too many voters.

Wes Clark does not like what George Bush has done with Wes Clark's Army. Make no mistake: It's his Army. He can hardly go a sentence without mentioning the military -- and how, in his mind, Bush has abused it. He sent it to war precipitously and then used its men and women as "props," he says. Clark's sincerity on this point is patent. In a conversation on his campaign plane, he suddenly turned intense, a kind of growling, low-grade rage that lifted my nose from my note-taking. His Army has been abused.

Make no mistake: it's not Wes Clark's Army. It's our Army. Wes Clark neither built, nor effectively commanded this Army. Maybe the Air Force, but his one near-decisive moment with the Army almost started WWIII in a race to the Pristina airport. It's already been pointed out before that the "rush to war" took 18 months. "His" Army hasn't been abused. It's been used for what it was trained for, preserved astonishingly intact, and knows what it's doing is important. Deacon's comparison to MacClellan looks more and more apt every day.

As near as I can tell, the President's pretty popular with the troops. That whoop you heard Thanksgiving morning looked pretty sincere to me. If Clark actually had any respect for the grunts he cares about, he'd realize that these guys know they're on camera when the President shows up to talk. And they still respond. You don't want to be a prop? Respond with respectful but subdued applause, like they did during Hilary's Look-At-Me Tour of Afghanistan and Iraq.

My biggest worry about Clark isn't Clark, but the people around him. The Clinton faction within the Democratic party is making itself increasingly visible in support of Clark. This accounts for some of his rise within the party, his increase in fundraising, and some of his credibility that he appeared to have blown early on. The Clintons are professionals, the Deans largely amateurs.

Were Clark to get the nomination, he would almost certainly lose to Bush, barring economic or terrorist disaster for the country. But he wouldn't take the whole party down with him like Dean might. Bush would be forced to run a real campaign, as opposed to being able to devote resources to the down-ticket candidates. The Republican gains in the Senate and House would be limited. Hilary would inherit a stronger party, although one perhaps less inclined towards self-criticism, than if Dean were nominated. More importantly, Clark will retain the Clintons' friends in the party hierarchy. Hilary would also find a party establishment that had spent four years working to get her, specifically her, elected President.

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