I‘ll admit it. Until last week, I was shamelessly detached from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. I had little enthusiasm for any of the campaign punditry and even less interest in deciding which of the nine candidates would get my vote. Sure, I read a few articles here and there, and dutifully listened to NPR’s 10-part series on all the presidential candidates-including Bush-but I was largely and unapologetically apathetic. My excuse? Retired Gen. Wesley Clark.
I spent most of the summer romanticizing the lefty former NATO supreme allied commander and the strength of any campaign he might run. I proudly wore my “Draft Clark” button and studied his impressive resume. His military career as a four-star general, his Rhodes Scholarship and his ties to the Clinton administration had me ready to write his inauguration speech. I was ready to graduate early, move to Iowa and join his campaign – but he wasn’t running.
Like many Democrats depressed by the lackluster slate of presidential candidates, I was afraid President Bush might be unstoppable. Hoping to avoid the disillusion and disappointment I felt after the 2000 elections, I perversely took comfort in my apathy and in Clark’s hesitancy to run. I thought that if I didn’t invest myself in any one of the declared candidates and kept my faith in the good general, I’d be guiltless if Bush won a second term. I’d be able to say: “I was for Clark but he was too decent to run. It’s not my fault your candidate couldn’t beat Bush.” I only realized the ugliness of this anticipatory deflection when Clark finally announced his candidacy last week.
Initially, I was thrilled that Clark had joined the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but soon thereafter I found myself slipping into my previous state of apathy. I was struck by my hypocrisy – how could I ignore the race now that my favorite candidate was running when I had based my previous indifference on his absence? My fear of another Democratic loss to Bush was leading me to join that huge percentage of illogical Americans who do not exercise their right to vote, but still complain when the nation isn’t running as they see fit. I was willing to forgo political debate and discussion because I believed the influence of the current administration might be greater than the power of elections. Somehow I forgot that even Bush has to answer to the voters. And it’s those same voters who have an exciting alternative in Clark.
Before Clark became an official candidate, political pundits wondered if he were a classic case of the greener grass being on the other side. Would his ideal collection of qualities fall apart under the heavy scrutiny of the campaign trail? I’m betting they will not. Clark exemplifies an unparalleled combination of social conscience, patriotism and expertise. He easily outshines his fellow candidates – including Bush.
In this time of relative international and political instability, Clark’s military experience gives him advantages that none of his fellow candidates can claim. No matter how often Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) begins a sentence with “When I returned from Vietnam,” Clark’s 34 years of military service will always surpass Kerry’s feeble attempt to seem the military-minded Democrat. Similarly, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s attempt to be the most liberal of all the candidates without raising the typical alarmist labels falls short in the face of Clark’s easy social progressivism. It’s hard to say a four-star general is a morally corrupt bleeding heart. Even Bush’s military acumen is questionable when compared to Clark’s – the former proves his might with a superficial Navy jet landing, the latter with his resume.
While Clark’s detractors point out that he has little Washington experience and that he has begun his campaign too late, all is not lost. I imagine that Clark’s NATO experience gave him a good taste of the political wrangling common in Washington. Moreover, aren’t Americans always complaining about career politicians? As for the late-starting campaign, the Draft Clark camp has been up and running for several months and Clark has some name recognition from his NATO work and his more recent commentary on the recent Iraq War. Plus, another Arkansas Democrat didn’t declare his candidacy until even later in 1991 and still won the presidency.
All in all, I’m not apathetic and it’s because Clark actually has greener grass.
Strayer can be reached at email@example.com.