Clark boomlet ignores issues, ideology

Posted: Sep 24, 2003 12:00 AM
 Please, don't talk to me about the issues.

Oh, not you. And maybe not you, either. But you - that's right, you: the average Democratic voter who, having barely or never heard of Wesley Clark, has decided he's your man.

And you the Democratic activist who's been denouncing President Bush as a war monger for "fighting a war of choice" that was "not in the national interest" and was without U.N. approval but who has no problem flocking to a general in charge of the consummate war of choice, which lacked U.N. backing and could never, ever, be seen as an effort to deal with an "imminent" threat - or any other kind of threat.

Or don't you remember Kosovo? That's the place where American troops are still holed up, four years later, risking their lives for the betterment of another people. If you think that's good - like I do - you might want to explain why it's not good for us to be in Iraq for even one year.

And you the loyal party man. Why are you flocking to Wesley Clark's banner? Why are you so quick to forgive a candidate who "probably" voted for Nixon, Reagan and Bush and who just this week exclaimed that he'd be a Republican if only Karl Rove had returned his phone calls?

Oh, and what about you liberal pundits? You know who you are. The ones who fawned over Bill Clinton and Al Gore because they'd supposedly mastered the details of governing. Why is Wesley Clark suddenly your guy, too? Why is it now so forgivable that Wesley Clark needs to "study the issues" before giving detailed answers. I thought the reason then-Governor George Bush wasn't qualified to be president was that the Oval Office is "no place for on-the-job training."

And, by the way, why are the folks who said this election should be about the economy and domestic issues suddenly so hot for a guy whose resume includes almost no experience in this regard? Sure, General Clark can brag about running a military base, which had schools and a hospital. But his constituents and employees could be thrown in the stockade if they didn't follow his orders.

I think we all know the answer to these and many other similar questions. People think Clark's a winner. But that's just half of it.

One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons shows two dogs in business suits sitting at a martini bar. One dog says to the other, "You know it's really not enough that dogs succeed. Cats must also fail."

This summarizes the attitude of so many Democrats today. Yes, yes they want to win. But even more than that, they want George Bush to lose. And the latest thinking is that a military man with an impressive national security resume, good hair and better posture is the perfect recipe to beat George W. Bush. If next week the computers at the DNC churn out a political analysis that says a mean-spirited sweaty socialist will win, then the party will go nuts for Michael Moore.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne is honest about it. He recently noted that Howard Dean's popularity has had far less to do with his positions on health care or homosexuals or anything else - in fact his ideas on these and most fronts are unexceptional Democratic boilerplate, indistinguishable from John Kerry's or Richard Gephardt's except to anyone but the most committed policy wonk. Instead, Dionne plausibly argues that the support for Dean represents a desire among activist Democrats to crush George Bush. Ideology and issues are secondary.

"What Dean understood earlier than his rivals," writes Dionne, "is that Democrats wanted someone who did not seem intimidated by Bush. Iraq became both a substantive issue and a symbol. If Dean was willing to fight Bush on Iraq, many Democrats reasoned that he'd be tough enough to take him on across the board."

This of course makes sense considering the loop-the-loop inconsistency of the Democratic Party on foreign policy these days. Democrats are against nation-building in Iraq, because Bush is for it there. They're in favor of it in Afghanistan, because they think Bush is against it there. They're for multilateralism and the U.N. in Iraq because that's where Bush is seen as "unilateral," but at the same time they're aghast that Bush won't deal unilaterally with North Korea, ridiculing his insistence that regional partners and the U.N. be in on the talks. This is not serious foreign policy. This is "cats must also fail" thinking.

So now we've got the Clark boomlet, complete with a full cast of Clinton handlers behind the scenes. It reminds me of the episode of "The Brady Bunch" where Greg Brady got picked to be a rock star because he fit the costume. Clark the man is irrelevant. He simply fits the costume. Or in this case, the uniform.

He may in fact be a fine man and a potentially good president, for a Democrat. But it's too soon to tell for people like me who actually care about what he's got to say and who don't think beating President Bush is more important than the issues.