And so there is the desire to start over again. To begin the race from scratch. To rethink the takedown strategy.
Or, at least, to engage in the fantasy of all that.
Now, it is germane to this—both the strategy part and the fantasy part—to understand that the alternatives to the present field are in no small part Bill Clinton’s alternatives.
He is the great strategist (rivaled only by Nixon in his inveterate out-of-power political gaming) as well as the great manipulator, and his is the great fantasy of revenge. It’s his blood score to settle (as much as it was, last time, George Bush’s blood score to settle).
It is indicative either of the fantasy aspect of all this or of some more careful and clever calibration that he has two candidates: his general (the victor of his war in Kosovo) and his wife. These are the party’s “two stars,” he said last week at a fund-raiser for Hillary at their home in Chappaqua.
First, the general. Let me render him in the idealized terms of the fantasy:
Wesley Clark’s shadow campaign is being run from a small office in Little Rock, his hometown. This is, in itself, not a small detail: He would be, as regular Army and native son, the only Democrat (the only Democrat, arguably, in many years) to have a natural claim on the military-centered South (the military may be the true southern issue).
Clark has been pursuing the idea of a presidential race for almost a year now. Indeed, he has demurred only ever so gently about his intentions. There’s hardly an invitation to appear before a useful or influential group that he’s turned down. It’s been a well-crafted, strategically run hypothetical campaign.
Undoubtedly, his final decision to run or not has already been made—and many people expect him to announce it this week.
"Bill Clinton is the great strategist as well as the great manipulator, and his is the great fantasy of revenge. It's his blood score to settleas, last time, it was Bush's."
It is not likely that the 58-year-old career Army officer will again experience such a popular call for a military man in public life. This is as aligned as the stars get.
The fit is amazing. Delicious. He may well hold every political trump card you can hold. A general but a Democrat (relatively speaking, this is on a par with Colin Powell’s being black). A Democrat but a Southerner. A Southerner but a smarty (a Rhodes scholar—how many Rhodes scholars does Arkansas produce, anyway?). A candidate with the unmistakable contemporary virtue of not having been a politician.
And beyond each of the formal electoral-vote-grabbing slots that he fills, he’s really presentable.
Together with his sweeping geopolitical background and his background in military management—which is the very least that is going to be required to get us out of this Iraq mess—are gifts of language and articulation.
He talks great (this may be a benefit of having done several tours as a news-show talking head).
You can’t listen to this guy and not think, Where’s he been all my life? Everybody I know who’s been in any sort of proximity to him has come away smitten.
He racks up crushes wherever he goes. These aren’t Clinton-like crushes either—there is an austerity, a coolness, a precision to him, in contrast to the Clinton touchiness. Clark offers another kind of attractiveness. This general is astute, analytic, funny, liberal, charming—our general. (He’s even half-Jewish.)
Stay with me in this idealization: Wesley Clark potentially represents a historic reinvention of the Democratic Party. He brings back the South. He begins to bridge the divide in a country split between relative liberalishness and a recalcitrant white-southern-rural nativism whose emotional heart is the military.
What’s more, the Clark-versus-Bush rationale is irresistible:
George Bush has made himself into a wartime president without the background or skill sets or intuition to properly fight the fight. Lacking these attributes and abilities, he has fallen victim to a variety of ideological advisers and advocates who also lack the experience to fight a war, hence getting us into a situation in Iraq that is going to require some better talent to get us out of.
Wesley Clark is the cavalry. A real commander-in-chief.
Face it: The only antiwar candidate America is ever going to elect is one who is a four-star general.