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Can Clark Stop Dean?

Heís certainly got a shot at itĖarguably the best shot of any of the other Democratic candidates. Thatís the view of The Daily Kos, Josh Marshall and a number of others. DR tends to agree.

Clarkís basic strategy also seems fairly consistent with a number of points DR made awhile ago in a post on ďHow Clark Can Win the NominationĒ. Heís stressing electability, heís planning to break through in the south, heís going after the noncollege crowd and after moderates and independents. Specific scenarios for Clarkís success vary, but generally include him coming in second or third in New Hampshire (with Dean hopefully not taking Iowa), taking several states on February 2nd (South Carolina, Arizona, maybe one or two others) and then, with Deanís aura of invincibility shattered, gaining momentum, consolidating the anti-Dean vote and finally winning the resulting two-person race.

What DR finds missing here is any sense that Clark actually has to run on anything more than his biography and his electability. Even on foreign policy/Iraq, his real product differentiation with Dean is his biography: Deanís not credible on this stuff, I am because Iím General Clark and I won the war in Kosovo, etc. And on domestic issues, the kindest thing you can say is that he has a copycat program designed to pass Democratic muster. Itís not terrible; itís just not particularly good. Nor has Clark taken a specific domestic issue (or two) and tried to make it a signature issue; something emblematic of his distinctive approach to solving Americaís problems. DR has recommended education (for more discussion, see this excellent post in Mark Schmittís Decembrist), but the most important thing is that he have an issue he can make his own and talk passionately aboutĖrather than saying: ďme, tooĒ.

Even on taxes, where he has an important difference from Dean (wanting to repeal just the tax cuts for the rich, rather than all the tax cuts, including those for the middle class), Clark has not made much of an effort to capitalize on this difference. Again, itís vote for me because Iím Wes Clark, rather than vote for me because Iíve got the best ideas and the best approach.

DR doesnít think this is going to work. Voters want more than just an electable biography, so to speak. They want a sense of where youíre going to take the country which, in turn, has to be crystallized in a few issues that show youíre really different from, and really better than, the other guy. Once youíve convinced them of that, a perception of electability can be a great aid in generating political momentum.

But itís not a substitute for what you stand for. First things first.


I totally disagree. With a candidate with as much heat as Dean has right now, it is important for him to make the argument against his candidacy first. Dean is doing that. His clumsy attempt to seal his papers, his attempt to have every which way on Medicare, Social Security, taxes, guns (that is an issue an opponent should be pushing in the primaries), his arrogance in debates -- before any candidate can sell himself as an alternative, there needs to be a bit of implosive in the Dean campaign. It's coming. In fact, the Gore endorsement may have match to light the fire.

Clark is right to state the obvious -- this election is going to be about foreign affairs. He's got the domestic issues down -- affirmative action, tax cuts, gay marriage, free trade, abortion, ect. -- he'd be wise to get Bob Rubin to sign on as an economic adviser. But in a debate between the two (barring Edwards or Lieberman making a stunning rebound), Clark will mop the floor with Dean. He brings something to the table that Dean, and Bush in 2000, doesn't have -- credibility. The race begins on Feb. 3.

Dean's campaign is in the process of imploding? Clark would mop the floor with Dean in a one-on-one debate? Clark has mastered the domestic issues?

I want some of what you're smoking.

clark can beat dean, but gephardt, kerry, and lieberman will have to erode

I don't know whether Ruy posted this before or after the new Newsweek poll, but it really should be thrown into the mix here. As for Linus's claims about Dean "imploding" or Gore's endorsement somehow being a negative for Dean, I agree with ryeland: Dude, what are you smoking?

Newsweek's is the first post-Gore endorsement poll, and it shows a surge in support for Dean and some softening for Clark: Dean (24), Undecided (14), Clark (12), etc.

And as for Ruy's fond hopes for a Clark takedown of Dean: unlike a lot of other Anybody But Dean folks, at least he admits Clark has negatives. Which is the key, really. Yes, Dean has some serious negatives, and in an ideal world we'd have an ideal candidate -- one who runs a fantastic campaign, has a war record, is great on TV, inspires the base, raises gobs of cash, etc.

But back here in the real world, we have a guy who's great in one-on-ones on TV and has a dreamy military record (Clark) against a guy who has a great domestic record, runs a flawless campaign, inspires the base, raises money hand over fist, and has the courage to take on Bush. Those positives are what lead one quarter of Dem voters to say they support Dean. And in a nine-person race, 25 percent ain't nothing to sneeze at.

I'm a Clark backer but it would be insane to ignore his problems.

For a while there, for instance, Clark would hunch his shoulders and lean into the microphone, particularly at debates. He has to learn on the job. More recently they have him leaning on an elbow, for instance, and works much better.

There is one thing about Clark, though, that no other Democrat has: It is nearly impossible to talk over Clark. If you try to interrupt him, he escalates his own speech in an almost magical way that makes you stop.

On a slightly related subject, if my wish comes true then Clark will be the nominee. This is no secret, lots of people know it. But what to do about a VP candidate? My suggestions generally has been John Edwards because he is handsome and Southern. But I fear that would alienate Dean backers, so I drifted towards Dean, which I didn't like because he would be offensive to Southerners. So I asked my wife and she suggested Max Cleland. Cleland is also a potential pick for Dean if Clark won't accept the VP slot.

Ruy et al,

I confess I don't get it. "It" being the continued hand wringing about Dean by you, Judis, Marshall and a host of other smart, insider, political pros.

I want to win. If I thought Daffy Duck was the Dems best candidate, Daffy would be my duck. For months I sat on the sidelines because you guys (collectively) kept making me nervous about supporting Dean. I've had enough lovable losers.

I kept waiting for you guys to convince me that there was a better alternative, but you guys have failed to make your case. You act as though it is a given that Clark, or almost anybody, would be more electable than Dean. Your reasons are never clearly stated, and your analysis, such as it is, seems very superficial:

1) "Dean in a New England governor, Dukakis was a New England governor, Dukakis lost, therefore Dean will lose:" yes, Dean, is a New England governor, but has anybody noticed that he is not Dukakis. Dukakis was a nice guy, but he has the charisma of cold oatmeal, and more importantly, his wimpish personality made the "weak on defense" attacks seem credible. Dean comes across as a tough, strong, no-nonsense guy. For marginal voters, personality and character are very important.

I don't think any Democrat is going to have much success in the South. Gore couldn't even win Tennesee. But the Dems don't need much in the
South. The real battleground states are the upper mid-west and the southwest which has been trending Democratic.

2) "Dean is anti-war:" Yes, Dean was against the unilateral, pre-emptive invasion of Iraq based on bad and manipulated intelligence. Isn't the growing public opposition to the expensive morass in Iraq supposed to be one of the Dems strengths?

The Dems have to stand for something. If they agree with Bush, they give the voters no reason to vote for them. Dean will try to make his case that W should have concentrated on AQ, and that we should have worked with our allies. Not everyone will agree with him, but at least he will look like he stands for something.

I agree that Dean needs additional credibility on foriegn policy and security matters. A Dean/Clark ticket sounds like a good first step.

3)"Dean's position on repealling the tax cuts will make him vulnerable:" Yes, Dean has taken a clear position in opposition to Bush's give away to the rich. The middle class got crumbs. Dean has plenty of room to propose some alternative form of tax reduction targetted at the working poor and middle-class. The point is that Dean's record as a fiscal-hawk gives him innoculation against the "tax and spend" attack and gives him the greatest credibility as a critic of the fiscally irresponsible and potentially disasterous policies of the Bush and the Republican Congress.

4) "Dean is perceived as too liberal:" Yes, the media has portrayed Dean as liberal, and Dean's willingness to "take on" Bush has given Dean a strong base of support among liberals. However, anybody who has been paying attention knows, and those who are only just beginning to pay attention will learn, that Dean is far from a doctrinare liberal.

IMO, Dean can best be described as a pragmatic populist. He wants to make government work, and he wants to make government responsive to the people rather that the corporate oligarchy. That is exactly the polar opposite of Bush and his idealogically driven, corporate greed-fest. The fact that Dean presents such a clear alternative to Bush is why his message resonates so deeply with the voters.

In fact, having read and reread your book, I find it astonishing that you and Judis are not on the Dean bandwagon. Your book identifies the emergence of ideopolisis and the importance of professional and technical workers as the most important block of swing voters. Who better to appeal to this group of voters than a socially-liberal, fiscally-responsible professionally educated M.D.?

You guys understand the power of populist rhetoric, Dean's entire campaign is built around the idea of "take back your government." Gore's "people vs the powerful" sloganeering at the end of 2000 almost saved his campaign, but it sounded inauthentic coming from Gore the ultimate insider. It sounds good coming from the mouth of a small state governor whose insurgent campaign is sweeping the country.

Finally, I was a community organizer for nearly a decade. What Dean's grassroots organization has accomplished is nothing short of phenomenal. Dean has a chance to reshape the party and permanently change the political process in a way that can only help lead to the emergence of a Democratic majority. Why are you standing on the sidelines?

If you have a coherent, in-depth analysis of why Dean is so unelectable, I would like to see it or read it. Lets have an intellignt discussion of these matters, because ultimately the goal is build a functioning Democratic majority.

Implosion was a strong word. The point I was trying to make is that Dean has made all the right moves so far, but his subbornness on his Vermont records, the way the Gore endorsement was handled, the huge, huge, huge expectations he has to meet in Iowa and New Hampshire -- I think it is entirely possible that the governor is going to have a rough six weeks.

But I stand by my claim that Clark would win a one-on-one debate. And he is right on domestic issues. Dean is wrong on guns and taxes.

As for the Gore endorsement being a negative, the argument that it was a plus is based on it bringing Democratic insiders onto the Dean bandwagon. These are the same insiders who prayed that Gore wouldn't run in '04.

Linus: Thanks for the clarification, but I think you've still got your interpretation of current events wrong.

Yes, of course Dean's campaign could implode. The only candidate out there who can't implode, seemingly, is Bush -- because he gets a total free ride from the press.

How, exactly, was the Gore endorsement handled poorly? Nobody blamed Dean for any of the brouhaha. And frankly, I was astonished at the media's response. I mean, here's a huge news event. The guy who got the most votes in the last election endorses somebody in the primary, which has the potential to reshape the presidential election, which is about, you know, the future of our country, thousands dying in Iraq, millions of people out of jobs. And the pundits? All they want to do is rehash all the old, fact-free claims that Gore is a uniquely evil person, that his character is deeply flawed, this time because he couldn't reach Lieberman the night before. These clowns have reduced politics to a "Survivor" episode.

So I gotta tell ya: I don't think anybody messed anything up at all in the Gore endorsement. The fact is, no matter what Gore says or does, the press will attack him as if he were Hitler.

As for Gore's endorsement supposedly getting insiders on board, NO. This was a misinterpretation of some fatuous pundits. Gore has nothing to do with Beltway insiders any more. It was about convincing citizens that Dean is a trustworthy man for whom they should vote. Nothing more, nothing less. Everything else is spin.

Will he have a rough six weeks? Sure: look at those obscene ads featuring Osama, run by Democrats no less! Does he have the nomination locked up? Absolutely not. And nobody in the Dean camp will tell you that he does; these are the least cocky people on the planet, at least when it comes to political strategy. But he's the frontrunner, and I'm not even convinced it'll be a two-person race, as long as Clark continues to run a lame campaign.


he is seen as this "anti-dean" candidate, but really gephadrt is the only one acting like it. the less angry and less liberal democrats are very fractured right now (kerry, im lookin in your direction), but a Dean Clark ticket would be great politically, and resemble the idea behind the Gore Lieberman ticket. however, i highly doubt that if geph, or kerry, or lieb, or clark, or edwards won, that they would pick dean as the running mate. Ergo, that would bad news because the greens would have more support. If Dean wins, then they won't have that much steam. Dean can sure, sure as heck. He's got people fired up, and he did one of the coolest things ever when he said "to paraphrase the president: bring em on"

edit: Dean can win, sure as heck.

Exactly right, DR. Biography is not a winning message. Biography lends credibility to your message. I don't even know what Clark stands for on his one issue - national security. The whole argument is "I'm a general, so I'll do a good job." That just won't do it. Not to knock his accomplishments, but he's no Dwight Eisenhower.

This doesn't mean Clark can't win. But it does mean that he has plenty of work to do. I just haven't yet seen anything that would show me he can win the nomination, or the presidency.

Ok...so Clark beats Dean in a debate...but how? And I've really seen nothing to indicate this to be true. Clark has said almost nothing of substance so far, and for some reason he'll beat Dean in a debate? His answer to the question about Clinton during the last debate was less than stellar ("I haven't thought about it"...yeah right) Dean seems to have shown that, at least thus far, the debates don't matter. Of course, this will change down the line. But when? And will it matter (ie. will Clark have enough money to make it matter). Clark needs to get out some information about his policies, because right now he's boring. And we can't have boring if we want to win.

Ruy says that Clark lacks a signature domestic policy issue. True. Which one is Dean's? Lieberman's? Edwards? Gep is health care, but how many know that?

I disagree. I think what Ruy is trying to say is Clark is lacking is a comprehensive "why vote for me, not the other guy" story? Ruy thinks adding a domestic policy issue can do that. I think it helps but it is the full package, starting with the biography, the foreign policy credentials and policies (Ruy, if you haven't noticed Clark's you haven't been listening, with all due respect) and the commitment to Democratic domestic policies that will be the answer to the question.

For better or worse, at this stage, being the most likely anti-Dean candidate is part of the story at this stage, and Clark can and must effectively exploit this. So, I guess I disagree with Ruy.

Hey Barry! I too am a Clarkista and saw him slump towards the microphone and wondered why he did that. It turns out that its a war injury.
But I do agree, he has much to learn about campaigning...but he's very intelligent and learns quickly.

Don't underestimate Clark with the college crowd, which he is hardly ignoring, at least from my vantage point here in New England. As someone working on the ground as a volunteer on the campaign, I can assure you that there is excellent support among this age group. Each weekend, students from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and beyond make the trek up to New Hampshire to canvass. (I've done it with them.) His meeting with students at Harvard before the Hardball appearance drew a very large group of several hundred students. (Dean declined to meet with the students beforehand and took quite a bit of flak for it.) Meetups in this region, as well as rally activities, draw as many students as us older folk. He's working colleges and high schools in New Hampshire. And don't forget--silly as this may be--Clark won the Rock the Vote best video by a whopping 48%.

This is all just to correct what perhaps may be another campaign myth: Clark's appeal across the age demographic is just as wide as Dean's, and I do not believe he has focused on an older crowd to the exclusion of youth one bit.

I don't believe any of the candidates differ so greatly on domestic policy as to distinguish sharp differences. It matters to those of us who look deeply into policy matters, but we're not particularly representative. In the end, I wonder if the electorate will be looking for such details as much as they will be looking to those broader characteristics we've seen them respond to in the past: likeability, trust, perceived leadership qualities, etc. I don't know who wins that beauty contest. But I can tell you from recent door-to-door canvassing conversations, that there is a lot of cynicism that ANY of these candidates can do anything that will help them. These despairing types just may not vote in the primaries at all.

"It is about the values, stupid!" People don't vote for experience or resume. They vote because they feel a candidate shares their values and understands the concerns of their daily lives.

With all due respect for General Clark, a lifetime spent in the rigid, top-down, follow-the-rules environment of the military does not make most Democrats feel that he understands their lives or their concerns. The fact that he voted for Reagan, not once but twice, makes the faithful shudder.

Unless Clark gets a sudden infusion of empathy, and develops an ability to connect emotionally with voters, I don't see how he can win the nomination. Clark has a core constituency of moderate Dems who like him primarily because they think he can win, but in order to build beyond this core group he has to connect.

Dean connects. His willingness to "take on" Bush, and his campaign theme of "take back your government" resonates not only with liberals, who hate Bush, but with millions of all idealogical persuasions who feel excluded by a government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations.

"What DR finds missing here is any sense that Clark actually has to run on anything more than his biography and his electability. Even on foreign policy/Iraq, his real product differentiation with Dean is his biography: Deanís not credible on this stuff, I am because Iím General Clark and I won the war in Kosovo, etc. And on domestic issues, the kindest thing you can say is that he has a copycat program designed to pass Democratic muster. Itís not terrible; itís just not particularly good."

I am surprised you finally noticed.

Take a 2nd look at Dean. His signature issue is health care. With regard to tax cuts, I'm surprised no one has noticed, what Dean has actually said. Namely he would repeal the "Bush Tax cuts." I think that leaves some room for "Dean tax cuts" smaller, target toward the middle class. Finally his campaign is one of the few with a general theme- The Great American Restoration which emphazises American values and democracy. Call it hokey, but it resonates. There is a lot more to his campaing than simple anti war or anti-Iraq war. He also appears to be pretty shrewed politically.

Clark is the only other candidate with a general theme- the "New Patriotism." The problems I see with it are:

1. What was wrong with the old patriotism (not to be confused with Bush jingoism)?
2. the Flag amendment flap which stepped all over the idea that the new patriotism welcomed dissent.

Bud Wilkinson narrowly lost in the 1964 US Senate race (Oklahoma of course), to Fred Harris. His supporters believed, probably correctly, that the legendary Sooners coach would win if he ran for the other Senate seat in 1966. But Wilkinson declined, saying "they had their chance to vote for me."

People that are idolized in some other walk of life no doubt have to overcome a disinclination to beg for votes. The General wasn't exactly idolized in the military; it's the "savior of the Democratic Party" (from itself) that has no doubt led Clark and his people to believe that showing up will suffice.

Bill Bradley was both the sports hero and the one who would save the Dems from themselves, and his hauteur probably did him in in 2000.

I'm in 100% agreement with Ruy.

But considering the Saddam capture and other global events that can happen before Nov, the ability of the President to set the issue agenda and the issue match-up that Clark brings to the table, my belief that Clark is a better bet is even stronger, despite any flaws in the campaign. (Dean has flaws too, they all do.....)

The key point above is that the agenda can be set by the President. EJ Dionne makes the useful point that just because you and Dean want the economy and health care to be issues number 1 and 2, Bush has far more power to prevent that from happening. The bully pulpit, incumbency, etc. The only exception is if conditions are spiraling downward. They ain't great, but they ain't spiraling downward.

son volt: I'm inclined to allow your characterization of the Clark campaign to slide, because I think it's the kind of convenient myth that can end up blindsiding the competition. (And as Clark says, "I looooove being the underdog.") However, just to clue you in on a secret, Clark opens and closes each of his appearances with just the kinds of begging for votes you seem to think he's too haughty to do. (I'm Wes Clark, and I need your help, he begins.) In fact, an article on him recently pointed out how striking this is. As for just showing up, I guess the folks who've flocked to his town hall meetings and speeches in New Hampshire and S.C. and to his visits to day care centers and etc., where he hangs for long periods talking to individuals, listening and answering questions, would probably disagree. While he's out visiting the mom of of KIA American soldier Darius Jennings in Orangeburg, pancake breakfasting with the locals, and making appeals to hip-hoppers on MTV afternoon shows, Dean enthusiasts can persist in the myth that he's phoning it in. Fine with me. Same on policy issues, which are detailed and prolific.

The kinds of characterizations of the Clark campaign being offered here are just as misguided as some of the criticisms of the Dean campaign that Dean's supporters get so offended by. Clark supporters tend not to whine so much, however. They're too busy on the ground collecting signatures, canvassing, phonebanking, and holding house parties to bother.

I was really fond of the idea of a Clark ticket back in December '02. Since then I've had the opportunity to see countless hours of him on television, and I think he is now unelectable.

He has put his foot in his mouth so many times on CNN during "major combat operations" that all the Bush campaign will need to do is run a highlight reel.

And more recently, in the debates and on the Daily Show, he's proven he can't tell a joke to save his life--at least on television.

He comes off (to me) like a cheerless android overlord.

Clark's failure is much deeper and more serious than you give him credit for. He is, to be blunt, completely spectacular as a candidate. He manages to be extremely progressive while seeming 'above' the nonsensical culture wars. Clark manages to persuade people turned off of partisan politics that America can be great, and that each citizen is part of that greatness.

That's what attracts you and the smart insider pols to his candidacy.

So why has he failed? Well, because while he's avoided the national culture war, he's stuck knee deep in the culture war of the Democratic Party and the ongoing fight between Democratic insiders who have spearheaded a horrendous losing streak on basically everything and activists who are enraged at their marginalization. John Kerry is a nasty man. He doesn't return phone calls. He isn't well liked. He's arrogant and a bad listener. His campaign reflects that. So why was he the front-runner? Because the media elite of the party, led by Clinton-Gore consultants, picked him as safe for their interests. Progressive enough. Pro-war. Tall. And all that. Joe Lieberman is similarly horrific. He's a political lifer who has systematically allied with the far right in Conn to sustain his power base, exagerrating his civil rights experience (there was very little) to attract liberals while attacking Hollywood and TV violence for purely political points (he never watched the shows and didn't even have an understanding of the content - it was just all for show).

Lieberman and Kerry are getting nasty on Dean. Really nasty. And the reason is because Dean is successful, and they are not. Oh sure they might say that Dean will go down in flames, and perhaps he will. But if that's their reasoning, they should recognize that they need to sit down at a table and all but one drop out, annointing one person to be the anti-Dean. Only then will voters be confronted with a clear choice. Otherwise, Dean's still got it. But they won't drop out and annoint an anti-Dean, because these people are selfish insiders who all want to be the President, reality be damned. It's now cultural; they don't like Dean because he's showing political courage and organizational competence, and they are dressing up their disdain in an 'unelectable' argument which is at the core a threatening message to be sending the Democratic electorate (vote against Dean ... or else). Rather than return a phone call to a supporter, they choose to attack the one candidate who is responsive. All these people know is losing.

The media elites are scared of Dean because he threatens their power base. In annointing Kerry and then Clark, there was no thought given to the Democratic rank-and-file, because old political consultants don't care about the rank-and-file except to the extent that those people mean votes, money and power.

Clark's problem is that he is not of the 'insider' power base, but he has allowed them to dominate his campaign and his message. He is raising his money from Hollywood and New York, and so his message is inadvertently tailored to the elites of the party. Ironically, Clark had a massive grassroots presence that would have supported his campaign financially and allowed his message to be more compelling. Instead, the elites are dominating and using their typical bullying tactics to drown out competence so that this can be a TV air war that they understand. Immediately after he declared, the Clintonistas swooped in, and it's not coincidence that he has had no traction ever since.

On his Daily Show appearance Clark WAS defensive, but that's because his campaign is defensive. They are playing not to lose, and that's why they claim 'unelectable' instead of focusing on the disorganized mess that is the Clark '04 website. Dean is angry, but not defensive. But he's become that way gradually as the strength of his campaign made it clear that defensiveness and playing a BS media game weren't necessary. He stopped talking to Tim Russert, and started talking to the Democratic rank-and-file. His message therefore started resonating and has gotten better and better and better.

Clark, however, has seen the opposite track. Despite a wonderful career, he's being 'Gore-d'. This is a man who stopped a genocide through sheer political and physical courage and yet his message is getting worse. When he declared, he instantly became the front-runner; why is it that his numbers keep dropping? It's not because people drew a blank canvass on Clark (that's nonsense), it's because his message changed fundamentally. The Iraq mistake in the very beginning should have been addressed with a simple 'fuck you, media, for taking me out of context, now let's talk about the issues'. And then he should have sent out an email asking for comments and money on the flap. Instead, it became a symbol of a campaign that didn't have a strategy or a raison d'etre except to provide jobs for people who had worked in the Kerry campaign. It took them SIX days to send out their first email, despite an enormous email list and a lot of momentum. That's atrocious. Truly bad. And it's redolent of the larger structural issue of '04, that the Democratic Party elites don't share the interests of the Democratic Party rank-and-file.

The thing that frustrates me most is that Clark SHOULD be the nominee; he could have run Dean's campaign, and had it all set up for him by the draft movement. But he chose to throw away that support base with ambiguous lines of authority and a failure to countenance an environment where the electorate has a voice instead of one where the electorate just watched TV. So now on this thread you've got a debate over whether Clark looks handsome and charismatic or android-like, instead of the way Deanites talk about their candidate, and how he's personally meaningful to their lives.

Live by the image, die by the image.

MattS is right. My criticism of Clark (that he can't tell a joke at all) would not have come up (at least from me) if Clark were speaking to me about things that I cared about. His public persona is now much like Gore 2000 and Kerry 2004--nuanced in no particular direction, overly careful for no apparent reason. MattS' analysis of WHY this is the case is probably spot on.

Dean, on the other hand, combines a message I care about with true charisma and oratorical skill. If you've got a tape of his speech announcing his candidacy, watch it. It gave this young voter chills. The equivalent speeches from Kerry and Clark were flat and uninspiring.

That being said, I bet General Clark CAN probably tell a pretty good joke, when it isn't written for him ahead of time and practiced again and again and again in the mirror.

Matt S,

I think you're completely right about Clark, but it's not over yet by a longshot. While you're correct in assessing the strengths of the Dean campaign, your point about the starry-eyed enthusiasm is off the mark because it matters less than people think.

While Dean may (I repeat, May) be able to appeal to a broad spectrum of people, far too many of the internet posting Dean fans are just too personally wrapped up in the idea of the candidacy and divorced from how regular people view politics.

They take politics far more seriously than 95% of the electorate ever will. They are mostly idealistic and unrepresentative. They don't appreciate the how strains of anti-intellectualism and patriotism play out in a national election, nor wedge issues like taxes. I've spent enough time with activists to know how unlike "regular" people they are. (Don't get me wrong, I like 'em, I work with 'em).

Jimmy Carter won without people getting starry-eyed over him. So did countless other politicians. The head over heels reaction Dean provokes in *some* is just one way out of many to win votes. Just because Dean can do that to a sub segment of the Dem population doesn't mean that it carries over to the rest of the regular people out there, and just because Clark hasn't done it doesn't mean he can't win.


I agree with you. My argument is not a pro-Dean argument; I don't see how he can win, and I am somewhat despondent at our chances. It's just a reflection on why Clark screwed up so badly despite such sparkling abilities.

And yes, Clark can tell a joke. He's awesomely charismatic when he has the right message.

Matt, that was probably the most fascinating post about politics I've read this entire year.

I posted the following comment in the "Can Dean Move to the Center?" thread below and thought it would be worthwhile to repost it here:

This is my first time posting here. I run the Independents for Dean blog where we have been doing our utmost over the last 5 months (what marginal influence we have) to change the widespread perception that Howard Dean is a lefty's lefty. I am one of the longest Dean supporters from outside of an early primary state, back when he was an asterisk; so Dean supporters who are here, please view what I'm going to say with some perspective.

Lately I've become very frustrated with Dean and his campaign staff's apparent unwillingness to stress Dean's centrist and conservative views. Their strategy appears to be veer left and stay left, banking on the other 5 major candidates remaining in the race right up through Super Tuesday so that Dean will win pluralities among liberal Democrats and glide to the nomination. I believe their strategy rests entirely on this shaky assumption.

The campaign is totally ill-prepared to go head-to-head between Feb. 3 and Mar. 2 against someone who, correctly or not (most likely not), is viewed as a more moderate or conservative candidate. In such a fight, Dean will not even win the nomination let alone the general election. Yet the campaign and Dean himself barely ever talk in depth about foreign policy or other conservative issues. "I got an A from the NRA" doesn't sound like a heartfelt defense of an important issue as much as a short shrift pander. Explain your conservative fiscal philsophy. You've demonstrated your commitment to these principles in the past, display them for all Democrats and Independents to see, Dr. Dean, or else you'll continue to be called the man for the lefty liberal. He can shift quickly. Why doesn't he?

I say all of this because I know how incredibly hard so many have worked to get to this point. I still believe Howard Dean's going to make the best President, Republican or Democrat, we've seen in decades. Right now it appears he's letting us down by not having a durable winning strategy for the next 3-4 months, and the long-term be damned.

MattS makes some great points, but also some real blunders. Jeez, so it took him SIX DAYS to get his first email out - he was putting his campaign together on the fly. Sure, I wish he'd got in it earlier, but it took him a long time to get that all-important Gert endorsement.

Any other candidate but Dean would kill to have Clark's grassroots/netroots. There was some gear-grinding in the early weeks of transition from the draft to the official campaign, and it echoed through the blogosphere, and very few of the draft people left.

After shaking down, the campaign has become fine. A few weeks ago, every local Clark meeting had two agenda items:

1) Bitch about Little Rock.

2) Get to work anyway.

That phase has ended, and I'm not hearing many complaints from grassroots supporters any more.

I don't see how his message has been hijacked by those evil Clintonistas. In what way. Everyone kept putting horns and forked tail on Chris Lehane as a vicious hitman - but the only crap attack that Clark laid on Dean was that one remark about skiing in Aspen, and that was goaded on by a radio host. He hasn't gone back to it. Compared to Gep, Kerry, or Lieberman, Clark has run a model of a clean campaign against Dean.

His media operation is the best out there, if Rock the Vote and his first NH ad are anything to go by.

Finally, I don't care about a candidate being personally meaningful to my life. I already have a life, thank you very much. I want a candidate who will be meaningful to my country and my planet.

Yes, he does need to tighten and enlarge his message. I'd like to see him weave national security and domestic policy into one seamless web: Foreign policy and defense are the walls of national greatness; its foundation is the economy, education, health, the environment. It is all of one piece.

-- Rick Robinson

A couple of key points about the tenor of dialog about Dean / Clark.

This unelectability argument is offensive -- it defies logic and attempts to preempt citizens from identifying with a candidate whose views most closely match their own. Why is it illogical? Because this election will not be decided by "the more conservative general electorate." Most of the people who voted for Bush in 2000 will likely vote for him again (minus rust belt and some national guard and latino families). To win the Democrats need the Naderites AND first time voters AND some of the millions of left-leaning people who don't vote. Being electable is about getting the base to turn out. There are no Reagan Democrats to draw back into the fold; they don't exist any more. So a candidate that can't catch fire now, in my mind has no hope of inspiring new and non-voters to turn out in the general election. Do you think Bush is looking for swing votes? He's almost exclusively pandering to his base. Dean is exciting not because he's "angry," but because he's firing people up to get involved in their communities and pay attention to what's going on around them like no Democrat, or any politican for that matter, has in years, if not decades.

Clark on the other hand, is often well spoken, was opposed to the Iraq war and is a General. He has never governed and his only experience as a private citizen after the age of 18 has involved working at a the high-flying insider investment bank that previously channeled investments into concerns such as Harken Energy. To the point made in the original post -- I was excited to listen when Clark declared, but he seems to be determined to glide on his resume, rather than expanding his vision to offer a real alternative view for our country. He is an ideal VP in that he fills a hole, but to me that doesn't make a President.

Dean said a week or two ago something to the effect of "Karl Rove understands you need to turn out your base to win." This statement was false. Why?

1) George Bush won in 2000 with Rove painting Bush as a compassionate conservative, making him appear palatable to the most centrist of voters.

2) By his rhetoric, Dean seems to think the base consists only of liberal Democrats. Exciting the base is key, but the base is composed of liberal, moderate, and conservative Democrats. He is doing poorly in polls among the latter for a good reason: he's not addressing the concerns of *that part* of the base.

Therefore, if his goal is to excite the (entire) base he is not actually doing a very good job of that right now.

There are good reasons why the "electability" issue isn't going anywhere with Democrats. Count me as one person who is a strong Dean supporter precisely because he is by far the most electable Democrat in the field. I think that both MattS and Rudy have clicked well on why Clark - who is a decent man and would make a good president - hasn't clicked. The congressional candidates are fatally compromised by the ineffective opposition they've mustered over the last three years. That leaves Dean.

In my view the Democratic party in the last two cycles was paralyzed by consultants and focus groups. Cynical tactical positioning is not a winning strategy. Having a coherent set of beliefs is a winning strategy. Dean has legions of passionate supporters - the only way to neutralize the powerful right-wing propaganda machine. Attacks on him are ineffective because they are perceived by his supporters as attacks on THEM. I know this drives supporters of his primary opponents nuts, and I sympathize. However, this will be a great virtue in the general election. Gore lost because even his supporters tended to be lukewarm. Dean is not McGovern - Kucinich is McGovern. Dean is the anti-Reagan. Remember how he was too extreme to win in 1980? Instead of having handwringing insiders fretting about electability, we should have people looking to harness the tremendous excitement and energy that the Dean campaign has to offer. It's been 12 years since I've seen any Democrats as enthusiastic about a candidate as they are in this cycle. If that isn't a recipe for electability, I don't know what is.


I love watching Donkey Rising desperately cling to its delusion that Clark will win the nomination... Where have you been the last six months? Did you miss Clark's pitiful campaign stumble along? Did you not notice the Gore endorsement --- killing any argument about Clark's "electability" advantage. What's next? Lieberman's going to set the grassroots on fire and emerge as the front runner after the late March primaries?


I don't think that's fair. John Judis and Ruy Teixeira are simply trying to understand what structural advantages are governing the contours of the electoral map - and they see a lot for Clark and not so many for Dean. Since they are Democrats, they want to see Clark take it all. This post is actually calling for Clark to run a better campaign.

That said, there's a cultural problem with Judis and Teixeira, and you can see it in that they do not participate in their comments section. They don't 'get' what's going on, because they share the prejudices of the Washington Democratic elite, those with jobs and a desire to protect a status quo that has led to crushing defeats and a marginalization of core Democratic constituencies. I doubt they'll read this comment. They don't think that the 'public' is important enough to talk to, only to measure and manipulate. I'm not bitter about this, but I do think that they are being somewhat impractical.

Al Gore thought this too, as did most politicians and media elites. It's the game they know, and you can't fault them for it. Al Gore got humiliated, and figured out that he'd been had. Now he's one of us because he finally understands that people want a voice in the system, and that rather than a threat that's actually a tremendous boon to the party. Most of the Democratic Party rank-and-file knew this already, but it's a slow dawning realization for Democrats in office, and an even slower realization for Democrats in think tanks who have even less accountability to the public.

Trippi obsessively reads the comments on BlogforAmerica and acts on them. Other campaigns may read the comments on their blogs, but they don't get what to do with them. This is a larger issue than some web geeks, it has to do with a larger cultural proclivity to embrace or reject a two way dialogue.

I have full faith that Teixeira and Judis will eventually come around and start sharpening their understanding of the wired workers they see as so important. That said, I don't think though that their analysis is wrong on Dean or Clark, just that they're kind of snobby about it. Either of them is welcome to respond on this thread, and I'll more than happily retract my comments. They are a wonderful asset to our side.

If Dean is as strong as his most loyal opponents say, then he'll win in a walk. Which is the only way I want him to win, to prove that he can pull in people like me. He's got a ways to go.

But right now there's a solid majority of non-fringe Dems everywhere but NH that is either undecided or has another first choice. The "movement" is not nearly as pervasive, at least at this moment, as is asserted.

oops, in prior posting should have said "proponents" not opponents.

Agreed, Mr. Stinkleberry. But until Dean does win you over, it's still logic-defying to hear those who are supposedly "in the know" -- party hacks and candidates (and fans of candidates) who are behind by double digits and are only attracting single or barely over single-digit support -- call Dean unelectable. It is another example of the Democratic party shooting itself in the foot. Dean has a 30 point lead in NH. To hear Joe Lieberman (or previously Jim Jordan) go on about electability while their campaigns move into tailspins is like theater of the absurd.

In the end, come March we'll all be on the same team again. But in the spirit of intellectual honesty -- can someone really find me a person who voted for Gore in 2000 who would vote for Bush in a Dean-Bush general election (obviously Dean would also have a well-calculated VP choice alongside him)?!! Do you really think that the Dean grassroots machine won't increase Democrat voter turnout? Do you really think Nader voters will vote against Dean? Finally, do you think Clark has a chance when he's going to be broke in March and Bush starts unleashing 200million worth of attack ads and introducing Generals who will bad mouth Clark til the sun comes down. Dean has opted out of financing and will be able to raise and spend money to defend himself against Bush once his nomination is assured.

Finally, it's important to appreciate that Dean's not just building a quaint, lefty grassroots movement. Realize what the Dean grassroots fundraising apparatus will mean for Democratic congressional candidates when he opts for Federal funds in the general election: Dean will have a database that is on pace to reach 2 million+ voters. They won't be able to contribute to him, but they will be able to send $10 - $100 to 10-20 contested Congressional and Senate races... This alone is a reason to understand the Dean is crucial to the long-term viability of the Democratic party. The DLC strategy has destroyed the grassroots power of the party. Dean's campaign is singlehandedly bringing an active, but disenchanted group of core supporters under the tent -- and organizing them for the first time into a responsive online community.

"I think the Democratic Party is at an historic juncture here. We've always been the party that has responded to ordinary people. We've been concerned with issues like education and health care and making sure civil rights were meaningful. We're the party of affirmative action. And all that's still very, very important for this country.

"It's necessary, but it's not sufficient. Now we've got to worry about American security, and we've got to have a candidate who can keep this country safe and secure and still believe and support and uphold Democratic values." - Wesley K. Clark

To paraphrase the candidate, running as a four-star general with a four-star resume and four-star grasp of national security and foreign policy issues is necessary but not sufficient. The clock is ticking--and Clark also needs a domestic issue he can own.

How about the incredibly shrinking good-jobs market, the incredibly shrinking middle class, and the Walmarting of America?

*First they came for the grocery workers--threatening to take away their medical benefits and full-time/permanent-worker status. The rationale? Walmart does it!

*Now it's the knowledge workers whose jobs are being moved offshore--software engineers earning $75,000-to $100,000. Industry leader IBM is leading the race to the bottom with its plan to move the work of as many as 4,730 programmers to India, China and elsewhere. .

*It's even those legendary Silicon Valley start-ups, whose founding entrepreneurs are cutting costs by moving their research and development teams to China and India.

Globalization, the international loss of manufacturing jobs and new-job creation are complex issues--but Clark is a complex and visionary guy. He also taught economics at West Point and recently worked with a start-up alternate energy company.

The hollowing out of the U.S. good-jobs market is a long-term trend that will still be with us in November.

Clark needn't offer solutions to these problems--nor could he at this point. He merely needs to dramatically and passionately frame the issues--and suggest that the current administration of crony capitalism, secrecy and ballooning deficits isn't likely to take a competent--let-alone-visionary approach to 21st-century economic problems.

But he needs to start talking about this stuff now--and not after--the primary season!

Upon CLark's publishing his bold tax plan today (01-05-04), I think it is exactly the sort of Nitrous Oxide his engine needs. Too soon to be sure whether this will just make he and Dean co-frontrunners (it will certainly do that) or if it will allow him to blow past Dean. I'm guessing the latter, but then I'm a little biased. Dean is the only Democratic candidate who (at times) looks sneakier than Dubya!