Who will it be?The best way to view the crowded Demo-cratic race to challenge George W. Bush is to remember a line from the movie Sherlock Holmes Meets the Spider Woman. Said Holmes, played by Basil Rathbone: "I expect nothing. And everything."
Politics is art, not science. And this year there are far too many moving parts to make pat assumptions about the outcome.
Gen. Wesley Clark's entry into the Democratic presidential sweepstakes is a dangerous thing. It is dangerous to Clark, to his Democratic rivals and to President George W. Bush.
Clark's candidacy is loaded because it has the potential of exposing what many assume to be the shallowness of planning that took us to war in Iraq. Clark could reveal the lack of clear thinking among the neoconservatives who told President Bush what to do on Iraq. Clark also has the potential for exposing the extent to which this is really someone else's presidency.
The election process is like the process in which ore is smelted and refined to a purer quality. We have only begun to know Wesley Clark.
There is little doubt that Clark is a much brighter light bulb than our president. Of course, very smart people can do stupid things. Bill Clinton wrote the book on that. Thus there are two questions pertinent to the Clark candidacy.
A useful guide to what Clark faces is the title of Earl Weaver's autobiography: It's What You Learn After You Think You Know It All That Counts. A four-star general has spent a good deal of time telling others what to do. There is an assumption that rank conveys wisdom. Politics and life out-of-uniform don't work that way. What is Clark's capacity for learning?
Secondly, the military can be good preparation for politics. Or it is not. British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery wrote that, "I do not think that I would make a good politician. War is a pretty rough and dirty game. But politics!"
Once an American armed forces officer acquires a star, he or she becomes a We have only begun to know Wesley Clark.diplomat and a politician. Military politics, at any level, is rough sport. Americans of a certain age were deceived by the ease by which Gen. Dwight Eisenhower occupied the White House. Garry Wills dissected the man's genius. In an Esquire magazine article titled "The Underestimation of Dwight D. Eisenhower," Wills pointed out that Ike learned every job in every command that he held. He wrote speeches for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, which puts the lie to the notion that Eisenhower was a verbal bumbler. On the contrary, Ike always knew what he wanted to say.
The religious right wing that holds the Republican Party and the nation hostage excludes Eisenhower from its pantheon, because he was not ideologically pure. But the man was an excellent politician. In Nixon Agonistes, Wills admonishes us to never forget that Eisenhower gained most of his rank in the peace time army - a place in which rank comes grudgingly.
The question of whether Wesley Clark or Howard Dean can become president is a matter of whether they can supplant George W. Bush in the national consciousness.
I remember a moment in 1978 when I looked at a photograph of President Jimmy Carter and it didn't resonate. I had the feeling I was looking at a two-dimensional character without the weight to carry the presidency. Even as Lyndon Johnson struggled with the demon of Vietnam and even while Richard Nixon was caught in the web of Watergate, they were tragic, but convincing in their roles. But I sensed in that moment that Carter was receding from view.
George W. Bush's great weakness is his lack of depth. The president's limited vocabulary and world vision are symptomatic of a man who does not run deep.
We remember Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt for various things. Churchill's cigars and Roosevelt's cigarette holder. Roosevelt's dog Fala. Churchill's paintings. Roosevelt's disability.
Most of all we remember those two leaders for their words. Churchill's biting invective buoyed the British in the darkest days before America entered World War II. Roosevelt's words raised spirits across the nation during the Great Depression.
Words matter enormously to a leader. Bush's people try to fill the gap with backdrops that display themes that Bush wants to convey, like "jobs, opportunity, growth." Can you imagine Churchill needing such a prop?
Bush is ripe for the plucking. But the first rule of campaigns is that it takes someone to beat someone. Who has the cojones?