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DEMOCRACY: Government & Politics | December 19, 2002




An E-Mail to a Democratic National Committee Member

General Clark sounded very Presidential in an interview on CNN last month (I believe) and very Democratic on domestic issues, where his real test would lie -- even though the Democratic positions are sounder than those of the GOP, in both a factual and usually a popular sense, it of course takes good communications skills to make the point that they are indeed better positions and that, as a military man, he understands their impact on the lives of everyday civilians. General Clark must have had excellent communications skills to advance through a system as complex as the military and to command a multinational organization such as NATO. His GOP opponent would not be so blessed with the powers of speech.

And Gen. Clark is very photogenic -- I believe more charismatic than Sen. Kerry, perhaps a bit less so than Sen. Edwards -- not as "vulnerable" or as "aw shucks" in persona as Mr. Bush, which can be both a plus and a minus.

The biggest asset of Mr. Bush is the "Band of Brothers" phenomenon: "Comrades in arms" rarely turn on each other, having leaned on each other to get through traumatic, life-and-death experiences. Mr. Bush's leading us through the aftermath of 9/11 has obviously made an indelible impression upon the electorate.

The biggest liability for Mr. Bush, if we consider "voting the man" (if voters simply vote their pocketbooks, the Democrats with even half a plan should have nothing to worry about), is that he has always had "a chip on his shoulder" -- that must never be overlooked or forgotten -- it is George "Dubya's" Achilles' Heel (similar, although not identical, to the "aloof" reputation of his father, who was ultimately judged as President to be out of touch with the common people, suffering through a recession).

If we don't get out of this cycle of war and recession/lackluster economic performance and if Mr. Bush is seen as too rigid in his conservative ideology, "compassionate" or not, to do anything substantial about it, then he will become incrementally vulnerable to the "drunk with power" image that has brought down more than one leader -- the people ultimately distrust anyone with too much power for too long, even if they have other reasons to like him.

General Clark could well make a sober alternative, if the electorate hadn't by that time turned against all things military -- an occasional phenomenon in American politics, since the very beginning.

Gen. Clark is a very intriguing possibility, particularly because he is a fresh face at a time when the Democrats desperately need something new.

Notes: At least in recent history, the vast majority of Presidents and Presidential nominees, of both parties, have come from executive, not legislative, branch positions -- vice-presidents, governors, even a general. Of all the Democrats currently (or soon to be) in the running, only former Vermont Governor Dr. Howard Dean fits that description (so would Gen. Clark, which is one reason I was so intrigued by the possibility -- although if military affairs are the deciding issue in the next Presidential election, the current Commander-in-Chief will probably prevail, particularly because the GOP is seen as more effective on security issues). Even though Dean is far behind in the polls, at this early stage that might be construed as a plus -- I believe the leader at such an early stage seldom goes on to win the nomination. Although an outspoken champion of most Democratic Party positions -- and, as a physician, a natural leader on the hot-button issue of healthcare -- Dean would have to overcome Democratic activists' opposition to his pro-NRA stands, even though they would help him win states in the Midwest, South, and Rocky Mountains that Gore lost. Politics vs. ideology -- the eternal debate.

Please also see my later essay, with responses and replies, about General Clark as a Democratic Presidential candidate.

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