Democrats have to choose Gen. Clark

Liberals, progressives and anyone who has ever exercised an ounce of independent thought take heed: Not one of the original nine contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination has the slightest chance of defeating President George W. Bush next November, unless senior Bush political strategist Karl Rove has a massive heart attack.

The creditability of the original nine on the all-important Iraq factor ranges from minimal to nil. This crippling malady renders them unelectable and unacceptable candidates for the Democratic nomination.

However, the 2004 election can yet be salvaged. Out of the rational and coherent “anybody but Bush” camp, a potential contender has emerged: one with the experience, credibility and resume to neutralize – or even dominate – the traditionally Republican-owned national security issue. On Wednesday, retired four-star Army Gen. Wesley Clark (finally) announced his candidacy for the presidency. The sheer appeal Clark brings to the table is demonstrated by the results of an independent poll sponsored by his supporters in late August. One question read:

“If the presidential election were held today, which of the following two candidates would you vote to be the next president? The Democratic candidate is a former four-star general and NATO supreme commander during the Clinton Administration. He was first in his class at West Point, a Rhodes Scholar, is a decorated Vietnam Veteran, and is a national security expert. He is a successful businessman leading the effort to reduce our dependence on oil, is a moderate on domestic policy issues and is from the South. The Republican candidate is George W. Bush.”

Bush lost to Clark’s resume 40 percent to 49 percent: 1,029 likely voters were surveyed, with plus or minus 3 percentage points of statistical error for this question.

Even the most optimistic Democratic Party members and political strategists acknowledge Bush will be difficult to beat in 2004. Yet the political climate in our country has been especially dynamic over the past few years – which is nearly the only aspect of the political climate the political hacks agree will continue through November.

The effects of at least two primary issues will be defining factors in the presidential campaign – the state of the economy and national security: Both are surrounded by uncertainty and unpredictability.

While Clark has been heralded as the man with the ability to take on the national security issue, he has already challenged Bush on the economy, stating in his speech Wednesday that he would “hold this administration accountable” for the 2.7 million jobs lost since Bush took office.

Certainly the economy is one important variable in the equation that will not be filled in for some time. We have seen some signs of economic recovery – a jobless recovery – at this point. The state of the economy leading up to November 2004, will prove to have interesting effects on the race regardless of the direction it takes. A still-lagging economy cannot help Bush, though few condone the Bush administration’s attempt to turn the public eye away from its failed endeavors. And even fewer who follow politics deny the entertainment – however unsettling – provided by an aggressive neo-conservative spin campaign.

Equally intriguing are the effects a truly recovering economy could have on the race, particularly if it is combined with the effects of an electorate that is increasingly apprehensive of the war in Iraq and a therefore increasingly defensive Bush administration. If the economy recovers somewhat and then fades as an important issue, continuing problems in Iraq could make the Iraq factor the single dominate campaign issue leading into November. This combination of events would shift the odds in favor of the Democrats, if Clark is their candidate. The ironic twist here is that the Democratic Party has little control over the situation in Iraq or the state of the economy.

The developing race for the White House holds nearly unlimited unforeseen, problematic and uncontrollable factors for the Democrats.

Nonetheless, the most important and defining factor of the race rests on a choice the Democratic Party will make. Who will be their candidate?

Joel Gephart is a School of Journalism alumnus. Send comments to [email protected]