Clark Gets In

Unless he has just executed one of the great head-fakes of all time, Wesley Clark will announce his candidacy for President tomorrow. I am convinced that he would be the strongest candidate against Bush, and have a weaker but still distinct belief that he might well make the best President as well.

His strength as a candidate comes partly from his resume and partly from his novelty as a politician and the attendant lack of baggage. Partly the resume issue is a pure quality one: Would you rather have, as President, someone who was first in his class at West Point and won a Rhodes Scholarship or one who earned gentleman’s C’s at Yale? A Silver Star holder or an AWOL? But partly it’s his ability, based on his resume, to make the security issue, and the Saudi connection issue, against Bush.

In addition, the combination of being Southern and being military means that Clark will not naturally be seen as a cultural threat by Red-state voters. No non-Southerner has won the White House for the Democrats since JFK in 1960. Graham has the same advantage, but his campaign seems to be going nowhere. Edwards has it to a lesser extent; yes, he’s Southern and grew up poor, but he’s now a multimillionaire blow-dried Yuppie tort lawyer. Dean, and to an even greater extent Kerry, are going to be pure poison among voters who long for the 1950s; Kerry isn’t just a liberal politically, he’s a Grateful Dead fan. Well, so am I, but that’s not going to sell in North Florida.

As to his potentially being the best President of the bunch, that’s mostly a reflection on them. None has a real record of accomplishment in public office, and none has, to my ear, articulated a clear vision of where the country needs to move from here or how to move it. (Edwards comes closest.) Clark presents something close to a blank slate, and at the moment I’m writing my dreams on it. Perhaps the voters will do the same. (And perhaps we’ll all be disappointed.) But at least I have no sense that someone who has paid his dues and is obviously worthy is being denied his shot at the big prize if we go for the outsider instead.

That being true, what are we going to do about it? Clark’s late entry has some real advantages, but he now has to scramble to put together an organization and raise funds in the face of the web-based Dean juggernaut. Clark needs to hope that Mr. Feiler was right, and that things happen faster now due to the internet.

Here, then, is my modest contribution to that possibility. If you’re willing to contribute $10 to the Clark campaign, assuming it happens, and to be on an email list, please send me an email at, including, at the top, your name on one line and your email address on the next. (The button at the left will automatically address a message to that mailbox.)

If in addition you’re willing to commit to recruiting ten more people willing to give $10 each, and to suggest to them that they continue the chain, please add X 10 as a third line. (Ask anyone you recruit to send me a similar note, but with your name and email included on two subsequent lines so the tree structure can be seen.)

There are lots of things one can do for one’s candidate, and there will be time to do them. But a small contribution and a commitment to viral marketing of that activity are fairly minimal, and, in this case, rather urgent. The press and the polls will be making very rapid judgments about Clark’s viability, and those judgments will tend to stick. If he has a six-figure contributor base by the end of October, everyone is going to have to take him seriously.

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: