Wesley Clark’s eerie sanity

If you weren’t at my house for the world premiere of American Son, there’s only one way to get back on the Los Angeles A-list: come this Tuesday (the 30th). [Email me at clark@markarkleiman.com for details.]

Here’s Kevin Drum’s account of the festivities last time, and here’s mine

We’re promised another conference call, with the candidate taking questions live. (The campaign website still doesn’t seem to have either a tape or a transcript of the call on the 16th, which included a little speech on patriotism and the contest over who “owns” the flag that I found quite stirring and hoped to post here.)

I just came back from another fundraiser, this one featuring the candidate in person, as well as his son (who had been a father — of Wes III — for less than 24 hours).

Listening to the General take unscreened questions on topics from the Israel/Palestine problem to China’s manufacturing prowess, I had two thoughts: (1) I’d like to see this guy in the White House and (2) He may lack the intense sociopathy that makes a really great candidate.

[If anyone can explain to me what’s behind Mickey Kaus’s characterization of Clark as “creepy,” I’d be grateful. (Note that Kaus doesn’t bother to try to justify it, he just asserts it as fact. Dec. 24.) I think it just means that Clark is exactly the kind of Democrat Kaus keeps telling people he wants to vote for, and if Kaus couldn’t detect some character flaw he’d have to think about actually voting for a Democrat, which would make him very unhappy.]

Clark’s performance was an impressive intellectual feat (the comparison with Clinton is inevitable, and my impression is that he’s at least as smart, and more self-disciplined and harder-working) but what stuck out his level-headedness, calm, and sanity. He thinks George W. Bush has been and is an incompetent President, but — unless he’s a master of concealment — he doesn’t hate him, not even a little bit. “I don’t want to bash Bush,” he said. “I want to replace him, and get on with the country’s business.”

This was the third time I’ve heard him — twice live at small fund-raisers, once on the conference call — and at each of the three appearances he deliberately resisted an invitation to take a cheap applause line.

Once it was about policy toward Saudi Arabia, where instead of reiterating the tough things he’s said about Saudi complicity in terror he gave a little lecture on how we had to maneuver carefully to avoid having some al-Qaeda front become the dominant political force there. Once it was about the decision to keep his testimony against Milosevic off the TV screens, where instead of denouncing what others were calling (what I called here) a political decision by the Bush Administration to deny Clark a media splash, he explained reasonably the security risks involved in being cross-examined by Milosevic while having in his head lots of still-sensitive sources-and-methods information, and said he agreed with the decision. And tonight it was the invitation to bash Bush.

There’s no doubt Clark has a hard edge, especially when his words are mischaracterized: “I do my homework, and I expect other people to do theirs.” Well, that’s a characteristic he shares with lots of people, including Mickey Kaus and the undersigned.

In case I haven’t mentioned it in the last two or three minutes, you really should read Andy Sabl’s essay on Clark.

If you’ve read it already, and were convinced, do us all a favor and make a list of ten people who will listen to you, and then email the link to each of them.

Updated to reflect the fact that forecasters are predicting a 98% chance that the 30th of December will be a Tuesday, all day.

Update: Rob Salkowitz of Emphasis Added thinks the Democrats do have a candidate with the sociopathy required to be elected: Howard Dean. His comparison of Dan with Bush hadn’t occurred to me, but there’s something to it. (Though it’s really unfair to compare the two of them intellectually. I don’t know how smart Dean is, but he’s not actively hostile to learning.) Here’s what Rob says about Dean, in the course of endorsing him:

Probably the least-gifted intellect of the major candidates, with a reputation for being short-tempered and saying dumb stuff, and suspected of being an extremist despite a mixed record as governor. Sound like anyone we know? Dean is nothing if not the Democratic version of George W. Bush, and like Bush, he has that mix of guile, instinct, charm and eye for the main chance that routinely kicks the ass of smarter, better-qualified people. He also raises money like a son-of-a-bitch and has shown a real genius for the tactics of campaigning. People who say Democrats can’t win with Dean are dreaming, and those who compare him to McGovern (a spectacularly inept candidate, irrespective of his ideology) are plain ignorant. Dean is the party’s best chance, and he will campaign and, if elected, govern, with the same kind of ruthlessness we’ve seen from the Bush gang, but toward better ends. Maybe not the ideal model for a Democratic administration, but, regrettably, that’s what the times call for. There’s also a better-than-even chance that a Dean presidency will end in political disaster, and even his strongest supporters should bolt themselves in for a bumpy ride. Like Bush, Dean will present a broad target, and the best we can hope is that his clearly formidable chin is enough to compensate for the lack of institutional buffers that Bush enjoys (such as the right-wing media and the support of lockstep party loyalty).

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com