Sunday, February 8, 2004
Breaking up is hard to do.
I've spent all week putting off the inevitable. Hope and loyalty have kept me from acknowledging what is almost impossible to ignore: Wesley Clark, my candidate for president, stands no reasonable chance of winning the Democratic nomination. Sure, there are loyalists who imagine that a narrow victory in Tennessee will energize Democrats in, say, California, New York, and Massachusetts three weeks from now, giving Clark enough delegates in second- and third-place finishes to keep the nomination undecided right up to the convention, but let's get real. I can thoroughly appreciate Wes Clark Jr's frustration with the media's treatment of his father's campaign. But the fault doesn't belong only to the media. John Kerry and John Edwards seem to have caught the Clark campaign in New Hampshire almost completely off-guard with their huge victories over Dean in Iowa, and the campaign didn't turn quickly enough: Voters saw in both candidates the things that had drawn them to Clark, but Kerry and Edwards were winning — and if there's one thing Democrats want this year, it's a winner.
Edwards's "momentum" coming out of Iowa (which the media undoubtedly amplified while covering such trivialities as Clark's sweater!) has created a three-way tie for a distant second place. In the polls and in last week's primary voting, Dean was dropping fast, Clark was holding steady or fading slowly, and Edwards was gaining — but they each ended up too far behind Kerry to generate real momentum. And whether Clark's campaign is stalled because the media treated him unfairly or because he simply wasn't able to generate an enduring connection with voters, I can't see any way for Clark to break out of the media ghetto. He won't be perceived as a winner. Even a victory in Tennessee, his only realistic hope, would be extremely close at best — and a narrow victory in Oklahoma didn't do more than keep Clark in the race. William Saletan thinks John Edwards had the last chance to break out of the pack and challenge Kerry — but only if Clark faded out quickly. An unhappy thought. No matter how you look at it, Clark's chances have faded into oblivion.
But when you recognize the truth, what should you do? When should a supporter withdraw support from a campaign that is still bringing in money, when the candidate is still running all-out for victory in Tuesday's Tennessee primary, when people I've come to know and admire are still calling dozens of voters and making a heartfelt pitch for the candidate that I fell for, too? Rather than throw in the towel on Wednesday when Clark barely survived with a win in Oklahoma, I contributed money to the campaign. Breaking up is hard to do. But there comes a moment in political life when calculation has to kick in. That moment is now.
I expect Kerry to continue to do well in the primaries. (After all, what would make Democrats suddenly panic and go looking for another "winner"?) But like a lot of other people, I can't quite fathom him. Maybe frustration with George W. Bush and lots of Democratic projection is all we need to win, but I don't know what Kerry is about. I suppose I'm still looking for a substantive candidate — but I want one with more political skill than Clark has shown. Or, put more cynically, I want a candidate who stands a chance of drawing the sort of media attention that seems to make up people's minds these days.
Philip Gourevitch's latest New Yorker report on the campaign includes these compelling passages about John Edwards:
Edwards’s boyish ease, his smooth good looks, and his astonishing verbal agility create an aura of sunny youth that is not entirely accurate. He is, after all, a successful trial lawyer, and he is anything but happy-go-lucky. All that polished charm is in the service of a message of political reform and social justice. “We have so much work to do in this country,” he begins his standard speech, and, having thus enlisted the audience as his partner, he describes an America divided by economic and racial inequality and lays out a program to fix it: education reform, a national healthcare program, economic policies to spur job growth. These are the issues all the other Democrats speak about, but Edwards seems to be talking about the lives of the people gathered around him, not just about policy. He never tires of reminding people that he is the son of a millworker, and although he went around in a suit and tie in Iowa and New Hampshire, he seemed to be at home everywhere. At town-hall meetings, Dean delivered his responses to the TV cameras; Edwards never broke eye contact with the person who had addressed him.
During a ten-minute meet-and-greet at Willy Woodburn’s diner, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the morning of caucus day, which was also Martin Luther King Day, Edwards hopped onto a chair, and, after speaking about the wages of segregation in the South during his boyhood, he shifted to “another issue that we don’t talk about enough these days—the issue of thirty-five million Americans who are living in poverty.” Edwards speaks of poverty, and the public silence that surrounds it, at every opportunity. “I know that most of these folks don’t vote,” he said, “but we should talk about Americans living in poverty because it is wrong. . . . In a country of our wealth it is wrong for children to go to bed hungry, for children not to have the clothes to keep them warm. It is wrong in a country of our wealth to have folks who are working full time every day, trying to provide for their families, working for minimum wage, and living in poverty. This is not the country that we want to live in.” Then he said, “It’s time for me and you to lift up this country again, to make the American people believe again in what is possible.” He invoked the examples of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, who had come to office in times of great divisions. “I don’t believe I can change this country alone,” he said. “But I believe that you and I can do it together.”
I've been looking for a candidate who can translate liberalism back into "American," as it were. Combined with Clark's depth on foreign policy, that's what drew me to the general's cause. But Mrs Philocrites and I are both giving Edwards a close look. Honestly, though, his chances are only marginally better than Clark's at this point; they depend almost completely on the media giving him the crown of the up-from-nowhere candidate with serious momentum. And that will only happen if Dean and Clark falter. Soon.
Finally, three scenarios that might assuage my guilt for being a traitor to the cause: 1) Clark really does drop quickly and Edwards really does rise. Then I'd take comfort in being prescient! 2) Voters in Tennessee discover over the next 36 hours that they really like Clark, really don't like Kerry, and don't care one whit that a blogger in Massachusetts has cold feet. At least part of this scenario is guaranteed to be true! Or, 3) Clark, Edwards, and Dean just stay deadlocked for runner-up, Kerry is nominated — and trounces Bush in November.
Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 8 February 2004 at 7:33 PM