Clark for VP?

Matt Stoller makes the case. And it’s in many ways a strong one.

Matt Stoller makes the case. And in many ways it’s a solid one.

Like Matt, I was a big Clark fan in 2004. In many ways, he reinforces Obama’s strengths: they’re both seriously smart people, both intellectuals capable of writing real books and interested in figuring things out, both meritocrats who made their way in the world from unprivileged backgrounds, both calm and balanced, both capable of generating fervor in their followers, both good counter-punchers.

Stylistically, Clark is both less rhetorical and more analytical in speech, and more aggressive in manner: very much a “guy,” despite the Ph.D. His military record (including a Silver Star) is more than a match for McCain’s.

Having gone through a Presidential campaign relatively unscathed personally, Clark can reasonably be assumed to be just about baggage-free. And though he’s never held elected office, he’s eaten more than his share of rubber chicken on behalf of Democratic candidates across the country. So I think he passes the “Did he ever run for sheriff?” test.

If, to add to all those personal virtues, it’s also true that Clark’s loyalty to the Clintons is reciprocated (not something I’d want to assume) and that having Clark on the ticket would lock in their strong support for Obama, that would make him, in my view, the strongest choice. At the very least, it would assure Clinton supporters that they weren’t going to be cut out of the action for having backed the wrong horse. And yet Clark has minimal ties to the Penn/ Wolfson/ Singer/ Ickes/ Blumenthal /Lanny Davis part of Clintonismo.

On the other hand:

1. Clark didn’t leave many friends behind him among the brass. We’d have to expect some continued sniping from that quarter. On the other hand, that stuff is now a decade old and got aired out last time, which probably puts it past the journalistic Statute of Limitations.

2. Even outside the Pentagon, Clark had a reputation for sharp elbows. I don’t know how much of that was deserved, and how much was just the resentment of people who couldn’t hold their own against Clark in an argument. If you think, as I do, that preventing a genocide of Muslims by Christians in Europe was an important goal, then you ought to be prepared to forgive Clark if he cut some corners on the way. But if I were Obama, I’d want to get very clear in my mind that, as a candidate and as Vice-President, Clark wouldn’t forget who was boss.

3. Despite un-privileged Arkansas roots and a truly heroic military record, Clark is every bit as much “wine-track” in his political appeal as Obama is. Paradoxically, the fabulously rich and privileged Mark Warner has more appeal to downscale voters, especially downscale rural voters. (Like McCain, Clark is tone-deaf on religion. For all I know, both of them may be personally devout, but neither knows how to sound like it. That wouldn’t be much of a handicap running for VP, though.)

Obama has a wealth of good choices, and therefore no obvious choice: in addition to Clark, he could do well with Dodd, Warner, Strickland, or Harman. But if he happened to pick Clark, we’d have a Democratic ticket consisting of the two politicians I’ve most admired in my adult lifetime.

Update A reader points out that a couple of Clark’s business ventureshaven’t gone too well. Adjust the “no baggage” comment accordingly.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: