Kerry, Dean, Clark, and (prospectively) Hillary

Posted: Oct 09, 2003 12:00 AM

In the beginning, they all waited for Alpha Al Gore to carry the banner once more - such a candidate was he, so close had he come, such a race had he run. Now they are 10, and Hillary has yet to declare.

Over the summer, all eyes were on the fading John Kerry and the surging Howard Dean - Joe Lieberman, Gore's 2000 running-mate and the only moderate in the Democratic field, probably having maxed out at 12 percent or so, rendering him "un-nominatable" in the party of self-righteous leftism.

Interest now focuses on Dean, Lieberman perhaps, Kerry perhaps, and the sudden Wesley Clark - surrogate for the Clintons. Within days he was sharing the lead in New Hampshire and running nationally - if you can stand it - ahead of President Bush.

What of Clark?

One-time Republican: Notes the intellectually lame Kerry, "While Clark was voting for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, I was fighting against both of their policies." Arkansan Rhodes Scholar, like you-know-who - and, also like said you-know-who, four-star egotist (NOT retired). Had his fourth star delayed for cowboy antics in Bosnia, and retired prematurely from the Balkan fray.

Says retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, Clinton's principal chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flabbergasted by Clark's sudden emergence and seeming viability: "I've known Wes for a long time. I will tell you the reason he came out of Europe early had to do with integrity and character issues, things that are very near and dear to my heart. I'm not going to say whether I'm a Republican or a Democrat. I'll just say Wes won't get my vote."

He's a "nouveau arrive" on the landscape, so he's getting a lot of ink a la John McCain four years ago. He's a former general, rare among Democrats, and thereby supposedly negates Bush's massive advantage on security issues. And, he says, he has "been against the war (in Iraq) from the beginning. I never saw the imminent threat in Iraq, and I think the president failed to really make the case of the imminent threat. I think the facts on the ground show there wasn't an imminent threat."

Ah, yes, the Saddamite albatross around the Bushian neck.

That puts him at odds with practically every prominent Democrat: Most supported taking out Saddam, though most now - for transparently political reasons - are playing the "Where Are the WMDs?" game.

Clark's seeming strength testifies to nothing so much as the weakness of the Democratic field, where anyone with just 14-percent strength in the polls will put any joker in the lead.

His chances? Dubes: Of the 12 generals who have served as president, only one - Dwight D. Eisenhower - served in the 20th century, and Clark is no Eisenhower.

His role? In a party sufficiently anti-Semitic not to embrace the brilliant Lieberman, to have a Clintonian horse in the race (oxymoronically, a Clintonian Galahad) - who, if inadequate to the task alone, could pair with a late-entering Hillary to give final comeuppance (retribution?) to the vast right-wing conspiracy.

In characteristic fashion, the Democrats are piling on - now Lieberman, now Dean and now Clark. The party has lost its birthright, has no soul, consists only of splintered interest groups and consequently has no critical mass. This is a party two-thirds of whose members cannot name a single one of the 10 presidential wannabes - those wannabes, such gravitas do they have, listing at the Baltimore debate (for instance) their favorite popular songs.

A party of monstrous egos such as Clark's, Clinton's and Teddy Kennedy's. Yet a party careening left, the remains of whose soul may reside in precisely the candidate it can neither nominate nor elect - Joe Lieberman.

He has warned that the party risks being captured by the "far ideological left" and vowed: "I'm not going to stand back and let this party be taken over by people who would bring us to the political wilderness again."

Maybe not. But the operative question remains: Are the likes of Kerry, Dean, Clark, and (prospectively) Hillary prudent guides for leading the party out of the wilderness - or in?