A General Election

Wes ClarkA friend of mine has been talking up the long-awaited entry of General Wesley Clark into the race for the Democratic nomination for so long now, it seemed almost anti-climactic to me when it happened yesterday. Notwithstanding Clark’s impressive résumé, I’ve been a bit skeptical of the concept of an ideal candidate that the politically flirtatious Clark has been cultivating for the past few months. My take on it is that, before a candidate jumps into the race, it really doesn’t matter what they’ve done before, for better or worse. Once the hat is in the ring, as it is now, that’s when we really find out if there’s a credible case to be made for him. And besides, one has to wonder why the hell he waited so long to join the fray.

Clark has enjoyed no shortage of enthusiastic press coverage, but I predict that won’t last very long. The field of Democratic contenders is crowded and, except for Howard Dean, mostly unremarkable from the perspective of newsworthiness. Clark opens up the story considerably, at least for the short term — he represents a new wellspring of potentially juicy headlines, and the press corps is going to tear him apart.

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This, of course, is his first big test: does he have the temperament to run a campaign, to keep his notably irascible style of leadership in check through the monotony of the campaign trail? That’s what everybody will be focusing on for the next few weeks, but it’s my contention that the only thing that matters is whether or not Clark can raise a hell of a lot of money and very quickly.

In the year before the election, when only a small, politics-obsessed subset of the populace even realize that there’s a race for the future of the country afoot, the only truly meaningful thing that a candidate can do is raise the funds to be heard when more people decide to give over their attention. If nothing else, if Clark does nothing right for the next three months but raise US$20 Million, then he’ll be a contender.

Anyway, for me, I’m withholding judgment on Clark. I really hope he decides to join next week’s third Democratic debate, where the focus will be on the economy, a subject for which the former NATO supreme commander is not known for having a particularly notable expertise. I want to hear him speak, and I want to see him assemble the campaign machinery necessary to compete in a race in which he is starting way, way behind.

I’m still a Dean man, but you know what, if Clark gives me a good reason to, I’m willing to consider throwing my support behind him. I mean, the idea of voting for a retired U.S. Army General who is a registered Democrat is very, very alluring… even if he’s only recently been willing to come out of the closet as a liberal.