More on the Wes Clark Boomlet

Today’s supposedly the day we’ll get the official, for real, no-foolin’ announcement from Wesley Clark that he’s running (update, we’ve got it), so it’s as good a time as any to revisit the issue of what his candidacy would mean for the race overall.

First up, Kos has an excellent analysis of what Clark’s early staff picks tell us about what kind of campaign he’s going to run. The short version is that it looks like the Clinton-Gore machine is gearing up for Clark (unsurprising considering Clark’s an Arkansan himself). You can be charitable and call this the team that won the 1992 and 1996 campaigns, or be uncharitable and remind everyone that it’s the team that bumbled its way through what should have been a victorious 2000 campaign. But either way it’s definitely the Team That Brought You Clinton/Gore, which, frankly, many of us would prefer to get as far away from as possible. (The fundraising excesses of 1996 haven’t been forgotten by everybody, you know.)

Kos also points up an interesting fissure in how Clark is dealing with the “Draft Clark” people. Apparently the General (or his handlers, at any rate) is expecting to run a good old fashioned top down campaign, and now that the soldiers have served their purpose they’re expected to fall back into ranks and take their marching orders. Some of them are apparently fine with this, while others would prefer to run a more decentralized, bottom-up campaign. You know, the kind of campaign you’d expect from a candidate that was “drafted” by a “popular movement”. Oh well!

(Full disclosure: Kos was a Clark backer, long ago, but has since shifted to Dean after tiring of waiting for Clark to make up his mind.)

The bigger problem with the Clark boomlet, I think, is that I can’t see what exactly it stands for. It’s like the old joke about how the best candidate the Democrats had to run against Bush was “Unnamed Democrat” — run a poll asking people to choose between Bush and “Unnamed Democrat” and they go for U.D. because they can fill up the void with whatever they want to, but as soon as you put a name on that void the gap closes as people realize they have to choose an actual candidate and not just a proxy for their political fantasies. Up to now, Clark has served mostly as the human stand-in for “Unnamed Democrat” — as the person people could support if they didn’t think they liked any of the other Dems. It was easy, since he seemed likeable enough, stuck mostly to positions any Democrat would support (“we should have international support in Iraq!” Well, duh), and was never pressed on the same questions that the other candidates were.

Don’t believe me? Consider this. Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall has been beating the drum for Clark for months. Why? Because:

As I’ve written before, I think there’s a niche waiting to be filled just to Dean’s right.
The folks whom I respect most on this question believe Dean’s mix of Vermontly social liberalism and staunch opposition to the war will make it exceedingly difficult for him to appeal to the swing voters who will eventually decide the election in battleground states like Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

OK — so we need Clark because the problem is, Dean’s just too darn liberal — no way those Rust Belt states are gonna go for a flower child like him!

But… wait a minute… over on his site, Michael Moore is showing much love to Wes Clark too. Why? Because — wait for it — Dean’s not liberal enough:

In addition to being first in your class at West Point, a four star general from Arkansas, and the former Supreme Commander of NATO — enough right there that should give pause to any peace-loving person — I have discovered that…
1. You oppose the Patriot Act and would fight the expansion of its powers.
2. You are firmly pro-choice.
3. You filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action case.
4. You would get rid of the Bush tax “cut” and make the rich pay their fair share.
5. You respect the views of our allies and want to work with them and with the rest of the international community.
6. And you oppose war. You have said that war should always be the “last resort” and that it is military men such as yourself who are the most for peace because it is YOU and your soldiers who have to do the dying. You find something unsettling about a commander-in-chief who dons a flight suit and pretends to be Top Gun, a stunt that dishonored those who have died in that flight suit in the service of their country.
General Clark, last night I finally got to meet you in person. I would like to share with others what I said to you privately: You may be the person who can defeat George W. Bush in next year’s election.
This is not an endorsement. For me, it’s too early for that. I have liked Howard Dean (in spite of his flawed positions in support of some capital punishment, his grade “A” rating from the NRA, and his opposition to cutting the Pentagon budget)…

Ah, yes, those unfortunate “flawed positions” that one finds oneself taking up when one is actually out in the arena rather than loftily making the talk show rounds mulling over whether or not to get one’s hands dirty running for office!

See, that’s the thing — at this point, Wes Clark is less a candidate than a mirror. People look at him and see themselves reflected back. Clearly both Marshall and Moore can’t be right — Clark can’t be both more and less conservative than Dean at the same time, unless he’s mastered some kind of crazy kung-fu four-dimensional political metaphysics that our puny human brains can’t begin to grasp — so it’ll be interesting in a few months to take a look, once Clark’s been forced to actually commit himself to some real positions instead of vague platitudes, and see which one of them turned out to be right.