Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 2003 / 26 Tishrei, 5764
Clark's Achille's heel
General Wesley Clark's posture of a general-as-a-man-of-peace running for
president in the aftermath of a war taps into an iconography that is well
established in American politics. General Ulysses S. Grant was elected president
as much for his saying "let us have peace" as for his bloody and successful
strategy of attrition in winning the Civil War.
It was General Dwight D.
Eisenhower's pledge to "go to Korea" to end that sanguinary stalemate rather than
just a celebration of his D-Day success which impelled his election as
president. Even Senator John Kerry's attempt to summon the memory of his leadership
of Vietnam Veterans Against the War run smacks of the same formula. Clark's
opposition to the Iraq War as he sheds his uniform is an effort to bring this
tradition of the peace-making general into the 21st Century.
But Clark is no hero. His iconography is entirely artificial. One has
difficulty recalling the war he won or the invasion he led. We also have a
tough time figuring out whether he would have voted for or against the war had he
been in Congress. He is a liberal Democrat's idea of a war hero.
Now, attempting to cash in on his national standing without mucking
around in the trenches of electoral warfare, he trumpets his decision to avoid the
Iowa caucuses entirely and downplays his prospects in New Hampshire. But even
if this general feels he can harvest the benefits of the warrior image
without having led the military in a war, he cannot win the nomination without
battling his way through the early caucuses and primaries.
Its not that a candidate must win Iowa and New Hampshire to win the
nomination. Clinton lost them both and prevailed in 1992. Harkin from Iowa and
Tsongas from next-door Massachusetts beat him in these first two contests. But
a candidate who wins both of these early contests and does not come from the
local neighborhood acquires a momentum that is irresistible, particularly if
his victory is a come-from-behind upset.
It is not that Clark won't win Iowa or New Hampshire that will doom his
candidacy. It's that Howard Dean will.
Dean, a candidate who has deeply penetrated the early primary and caucus
states with his Internet-era campaign. Dean can name his supporters in each
state, a particularly valuable asset when it comes to a caucus contest as in
Iowa. His Internet candidacy is as packed with cyber-roots (formerly grass
roots) supporters as Clark's is devoid of real backing.
Dean will probably win in Iowa. He will knock out Dick Gephardt of
neighboring Missouri in the process. The momentum from Iowa will swamp Kerry in
New Hampshire and the resulting surge from the first two victories will
eviscerate Edwards in next-door South Carolina.
The impact of this trifecta of upsets cannot be offset by Clark's
national base of amorphous popularity. By the time Wesley Clark shows up to the
dance, it will be over. Even with massive financial support, one cannot simply
begin to run for president in the California and New York primaries in early
March. Dean's financial and political momentum will be too forceful and massive
for Clark to pull it off. The hill is too steep, the slope too sharp, and the
king of the hill (Dean after the early victories) is too deeply entrenched
for Clark's strategy to succeed.
Indeed, Clark's failure to grasp the political reality of the Internet,
reminds one of Hubert Humphrey's lack of reality in adjusting to the primary
process when it was first established in most states in 1972. Then, as now, a
candidate from nowhere (McGovern then and Dean now) understood the dramatic
changes of modern politics. McGovern exploited the rules reform he passed to win
the nomination against Humphrey who tried to use the old style boss-dominated
politics to win. Dean is using the Internet to develop, brick-by-brick, a
massive base of popular support. He faces Clark, who is trying to use the
old-style media campaign to propel his way to the nomination.
Clark's managers, veterans of the 1992 Clinton run, are like the generals
of France who enter each war perfectly prepared to win the last one.
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© 2003, Dick Morris