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Sunday, February 8, 2004

Breaking up is hard to do.

Wesley ClarkI'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

Previous: Peter Gomes vs. Archbishop O'Malley.
Next: Scenes from the end of the road.

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7 comments:

Michael Miller:

February 8, 2004 09:06 PM | Permalink for this comment

As a Kucinich supporter, I share your pain.

On the one hand, idealism and a sincere desire to see your candidate connect with the public drives you to send money (if you can), and to promote your candidate as much as reasonably possible. The "reasonably" caveat is a recognition that you can only push your candidate so much before you alienate everyone you know. Actually, the limit is way before that: you want to give people information and do it in a way that causes a lightbulb to go off in their heads.

On the other hand. Reality kicks in. The popular media is doing everything they can to cull the field. In Kucinich's case, the NY Times told him not to run from the beginning. Recently, they stated quite explicitly that Kucinich and Sharpton should be EXCLUDED from future debates. Why? Are they somehow threatened by these two and the way they connect with their audiences? It's so frustrating to know the difference between the reality of your candidate and the blatently manufactured perception of them.

I like Clark, and have said so on multiple occasions. On MahaBlog, I spoke up at an inopportune time (she was fed up with rabid Kucinich supporters who kept saying Dennis is the ONLY candidate who...). My intent was to gently ask her to separate her perception of the candidate from any subset of his supporters. We got through the exchange just fine, but it was a bit strange. No criticism of her intended. I like and promote that web log, which means I like the person behind it.

In any case, I've seen Judy Woodruff pester Clark while he was testifying in Europe until she got the sound byte she wanted: a criticism of "the commander in chief" from a guy who was "over there, on foreign soil". That sound byte, extracted in a manner as painful as pulling a tooth with a pair of pliers, was all over the news. The Right ran with it, and the manufactured perception of Clark marched forward.

I really want to see all Democratic candidates stay in the race to the end, regardless of their chances. This even applies to candidates I don't care for. Why? Because I want the debate -- the national conversation -- to keep pounding on the issues that are important.

Clark's sweaters aren't.

Janet's boobs aren't.

Kucinich's eating habits aren't.

Corporate Personhood is.
Media consolidation is.
Fair Trade over Free Trade is.
Poverty is.
Bigotry and hate is.

Is is.

Hang in there. The real fight is to force our government to serve us instead of whoever -- or whatever -- they serve today. The real fight is to get public perception aligned with the reality of how government works and the reality of what enlightened self interest really means.

This includes much more than Bush and his neocon cabal. It includes all of congress as well.

I was 'activated' by the Iraq war, but I'm in this for life now. You are as well, I know.

Melanie:

February 8, 2004 09:47 PM | Permalink for this comment

Chris,

Like you and Michael my guy is out of it, too. I'm going to vote for him on Tuesday, not because I have any illusions that I'm sending a message, but because, for the first time in decades, I think I'm doing the right thing and doing it without any reservations.

A lot of Deanies haven't accepted that it's over and are going to have a very hard time taking a hard look at the rest of the field and voting in NOvember. I'm not. Kerry's going to be the nominee and I'll be in the local office working the phone bank, registering voters and canvassing on the sidewalks.

But I hear your pain, brother. Hell, I feel it, Michael's, too. We had an embarrassment of talent this year when what we need is one steamroller.

Will Shetterly:

February 9, 2004 12:55 AM | Permalink for this comment

I say support your candidate until your candidate withdraws, and maybe continue your support then. You're not just supporting a person (I hope); you're supporting issues. And even if your candidate doesn't win, it's important for the winner to know that there are people who take your position. I have no doubt that Kerry would've taken much more centrist positions if he hadn't seen what was working for the more progressive folks.

And there's still the V.P. race. While Clark and Edwards aren't the only possibilities, they're the most visible ones. My take on the conventional wisdom is that Clark would be better for Kerry, because Clark is willing to attack and Edwards is trying to be the nice guy. Clark could be in the picture for quite a while.

Me, I'm voting Kucinich for the foreseeable future.

Will

RevThom:

February 9, 2004 09:34 AM | Permalink for this comment

Thus far I've not dedicated significant time endorsing or supporting any of the candidates. This is easy to rationalize since I live in Kansas - not an easy place to feel that your voice counts for anything as a Democrat. I do plan to spend time in Missouri working for whoever the Democratic nominee is.

I do want to challenge a couple of the previous posts. Will S. asserts that we should vote entirely based on issues. I disagree. I happen to line up closest to Kucinich as far as issues go, but I feel that he wouldn't make as good a President as others. As a political animal I doubt his effectiveness in working with what will be an extremely tough legislature.

It seems that how you approach issues can be nearly as important as your stance. I listen carefully to how candidates frame their positions: rational/intellectual, populist, prophetic, moral/religious, traditional, etc.

Finally, I'm sick of progressive people lamenting "the media." I will be the first person to admit the bias, superficiality, etc. I will be the first person to point out how ludicrous the coverage of Dean's "I have a scream" speech while ignoring everything Bush did that week to further screw up the world. But to lament is to take a passive approach. An active, creative, savvy individual/campaign will find a way to use the media to their own advantage. I can't take a candidate seriously who is deficient in media savvy.

MK:

February 9, 2004 12:25 PM | Permalink for this comment

As a fellow Clark supporter, I share your pain.

I live in CA, I am going to vote for Clark regardless, even though I know he has no chance.

For once in my life, I want to cast a vote FOR somebody rather than against somebody.

I will vote for Kerry in the general election, ABB is my motto.

However, for one day, I want to know how it feels to cast my ballot for somebody I truly believe would be one of the best presidents we've had in generations.

Will Shetterly:

February 9, 2004 01:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

I understand RevThom's concern. But if you don't vote for your issues, your issues will be ignored. When people were ignoring issues, Lieberman had "Joe-mentum." Kucinich, Dean, and Clark all went for issues. Kerry saw the bandwagon and hauled his political machine on board; the combination of issues and the machine seems to be winning. Lieberman stuck to his Bush-lite position and died. I think the decline of the Democratic Party is directly connected to the DLC's reluctance to take on issues. And those of us who care about progressive issues have to keep reminding Kerry that it's okay to care more about poor people than rich ones.

Rick (Independents For Clark):

February 9, 2004 06:46 PM | Permalink for this comment

I agree that it looks like Clark is finished, but he might as well keep in as long as the debate expands people's minds and he doesn't indulge in negative attacks against the nominee that would affect Democratic chances in November. It's not like there's a need for an anybody-but-Kerry candidate to unite around.

My hope is that the Clark and Dean campaigns don't just shut down the computers, but find a migration path to continue the communities that have emerged even if the candidates have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps they can even be merged.

It might just require a hosting change, and a migration path to a new domain.



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