On Wednesday, Sept. 17, Gen. Wesley Clark announced his intentions to seek the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. That afternoon’s address marked victory for the “Draft Clark” movement, which had been attempting for months to convince the former NATO commander to become the 10th Democrat in the field of those seeking the nomination. Many Democrats, believing that homeland security and the war in Iraq will be the major issues of the 2004 race, see Clark as the knight in shining armor whose military experience will carry the Democrats back into the White House.
The new polling data that places the general only 4 percentage points behind President Bush only affirms the belief that Clark is the Democratic Party’s best candidate for November of 2004. While the media has focused much of its attention on Clark’s military experience and his credibility in challenging the president, very little scrutiny has been paid to the general’s firmly liberal political stance on many national issues. Could Clark, in addition to being the Democrats’ strongest challenger, also be the liberals’ best hope? The answer is an emphatic “yes.”
It is difficult to believe that someone who spent 34 years of his life in the conservative culture of the United States Army could still have liberal political leanings. Clark, however, defies expectation and, more importantly, is not ashamed of being a liberal. In early September, during an appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Maher relayed a quote from Howard Dean in which the former governor of Vermont attempted to shy away from the liberal label. Clark, however, refused to evade and emphatically responded to the quotation by proudly asserting his liberal politics and reminding the audience that America was indeed founded as a “liberal democracy.”
Clark consistently and unequivocally takes the liberal positions on many contemporary political issues. He is a staunch supporter of a woman’s right to choose, opposes the president’s tax cut, and is an advocate against the proliferation of assault weapons. Clark also opposes the USA PATRIOT Act, believing that the act allows government to over-reach its bounds and violate American civil liberties.
Earlier this year, the general filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court defending the University of Michigan’s admissions process that utilized affirmative action. If elected, NATO Commander Clark promises to work closely with our overseas allies and attempt to quell the anti-American sentiment that is rampant as a result of President Bush’s foreign policy. Finally, Clark, from the very beginning of the conflict, has been an adamant critic of the war in Iraq, believing that military action should only be considered as a last resort. General Clark’s record proves him to be not just a Democrat, but rather one that acts as a consistent liberal voice.
While Clark’s unequivocal style and consistency puts him at odds with many of the other candidates in the field, what makes him a liberal’s best hope in place of Congressman Kucinich or Governor Dean? The first difference is in electability. It is doubtful that Kucinich will become a viable candidate. Dean, who is currently polling well in New Hampshire and Iowa and is also raising a tremendous amount of campaign money, is worth more consideration.
Although the governor is raising support with his rousing stump speeches and outspoken criticism of the current administration, the polling data indicates Clark to be the stronger candidate. An Associated Press poll from Sept. 22 placed President Bush ahead of Clark by a margin of 47 percent to 43 percent; when the president and Governor Dean were paired, President Bush accumulated 52 percent compared to Dean’s 38 percent.
This polling data can perhaps be explained by increased media coverage of Clark over the past week following his announcement, but there is another reason that Clark is a superior candidate for liberals when compared to Dean. Dean, quite simply, is not as liberal as he is perceived to be. The two issues in Vermont that mark Dean with his liberal reputation, the civil unions law and public school finance reform, were largely brought on by Vermont’s ultra-liberal Supreme Court rather than the governor. In addition, Dean is a deficit hawk and received the highest rating possible from the NRA for his stance on guns.
With polls currently putting Clark in the top spot among registered Democrats, it is quite conceivable that the general will capture the nomination and present a strong challenge to the president next fall. With homeland security and the conduct of war being his forte, Clark will be able to pose the serious questions harbored by many Americans. With his domestic policy having a strong leftist position being pro-choice, pro-affirmative action, pro-progressive taxation, and anti-war, Clark will be able to give voice to a group that the current administration is attempting to silence. As a Democrat, he is an excellent candidate. As a liberal, he is a dream come true.
Jonathan Menitove is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College.