"Bill Clinton II"

Joe Barrera jsb at polymathy.org
Wed Sep 17 09:12:50 PDT 2003

"... though most Americans -- according to recent polls -- cannot
name a single Democratic candidate."

- Joe


Washington -- A southern investment banker with a lengthy military career who 
did not announce his Democratic Party affiliation until age 58 is hardly a 
profile of a liberal's dream candidate.

But as Wesley Clark announces his candidacy for president this morning in 
Little Rock, Ark., Democrats from all parts of the political spectrum -- and 
even Republicans -- believe they've found the man to challenge the incumbent.

It helps that Clark has an impeccable resume: first in his class at West 
Point, a Rhodes scholar, a four-star general, recipient of a Silver Star, 
Bronze Star and Purple Heart, NATO supreme allied commander, and commander in 
chief of the United States Southern Command.

It also helps that he has nabbed lots of face time on cable television 
denouncing the administration's failure to build an international coalition in 

But by far his most important quality in the eyes of many Democrats is his 
perceived ability to defeat President Bush.

"For all the rabid Democrats who really dislike George Bush with a passion, 
for them the No. 1 thing is how they can beat him," said San Francisco 
pollster David Binder when asked whether liberals might find Clark attractive.

"If he can beat Bush, he's going to be very popular," Binder said.

Angered by Bush's conservative agenda and humbled by their inability to win 
majorities in Congress, state houses or among the nation's governors, 
Democrats are growing increasingly pragmatic when looking at the 2004 
presidential race.

Many Democrats are abuzz, even before they examine Clark's positions on 
cutting taxes, abortion rights or gun control, at the prospect of someone who 
can take it to Bush and reclaim the White House for their party.

"He'll be seen by (liberals) as Bill Clinton II," said Bob Mulholland, a 
spokesman for the California Democratic Party. "They'll read that he's from 
Arkansas, a Rhodes scholar, top of his class, and socially liberal.

"Democrats smell Bush is a one-term president. Clark has been on those cable 
shows for months and months bashing Bush, so liberals will love him."

The buzz over Clark is in part a reflection of the unsettled nature of the 
current Democratic field.

Vermont Gov. Howard Dean appears to be the front-runner, though most Americans 
-- according to recent polls -- cannot name a single Democratic candidate. 
Word that Clark is expected to join the race attracted far more media coverage 
Tuesday than news that Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina formally announced 
his candidacy.

A Field Poll of California Democratic voters released today finds Dean 
comfortably ahead in the state, followed by Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut,

John Kerry of Massachusetts, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Clark.

"I think he'd do extremely well in California," said Rep. Mike Thompson, D- 
St. Helena, who has not yet endorsed Clark but said he is "really leaning in 
that direction."

"We need some passion right now, some intellectual passion to put us on the 
right track," Thompson said. "He may be the person we need in this country to 
bring us together."

Clark has never run for public office, and his positions on many issues must 
be pieced together through speeches and interviews.

He has been critical of Bush's Iraq policy, insisting that the administration 
overstated the imminence of the threat and that the United States should have 
more narrowly focused its attention on the al Qaeda terrorist network.

An examination of Clark's statements suggests he is a moderate on social 
issues, placing him in the middle of the Democratic ideological spectrum. Only 
two weeks ago, during a CNN interview, did he publicly state he was a Democrat.

"It's a party that stands for internationalism, it's a party that stands for 
ordinary men and women, it's a party that stands for fair play and equity and 
justice and common sense and reasonable dialogue," Clark said.

He opposes Bush's tax cuts, is pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, supports an 
assault weapons ban but opposes most federal gun control and opposes drilling 
for oil in the Alaska wilderness.

Whether Clark will be able to satisfy liberal Democrats who form the nucleus 
of the party's primary voters remains to be seen. Unlike Dean's fiery 
criticism of Bush on domestic and international matters, Clark is far more 
soft spoken.

Clark's views on gays in the military may provide a test case for the party's 
liberal voters. While Clark says he favors gays serving openly, he might not 
push it as aggressively as some liberals would like.

"We've got a lot of gay people in the armed forces, always have had, always 
will have. And I think that . . . we should welcome people that want to serve, 
" Clark said in June on NBC's "Meet the Press."

But asked by host Tim Russert if that meant he would open the military to 
gays, he said "we need to charge the men and women responsible for the armed 
forces to come forward with that answer."

If Clark can persuade the Democratic base that he is one of them, some believe 
his four-star credentials could have a magnetizing effect.

"A liberal's stereotype might be to distrust military people, that he must be 
opposed to us on the issues," Binder said. "But if it turns out he's with 
them, and people think 'he's one of us,' that might create a lot of interest."

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