Nothing more unites Democrats heading into
a presidential election than determination to defeat George W. Bush.
Almost regardless of age, most see him as the worst president of their lives. Retiring South Carolina Sen. Ernest
"Fritz" Hollings put it this way: "I can tell you this categorically, we've got the weakest president...in the history of
my 50 years of public service. I say weak president in that the poor boy campaigns all the time and pays no
attention to what's going on in the Congress. Karl Rove tells him to do this or do that or whatever it is,
but he's out campaigning."
Bush's sheer incompetence is impossible
to overstate. The bad news and the lies just keep on coming. Yesterday,
we learned that the U.S. budget deficit will reach a record $480 billion for this fiscal year. 2001 Nobel Prize-winning
economist George Akerloff told the German magazine Der Spiegel "this is the worst government the US has ever had
in its more than 200 years of history." He described Bush's save-the-rich tax cuts as "is a form of looting" that will
bankrupt the treasury. It was also recently revealed that the White House pressured the Environmental Protection
Agency to suppress findings of deadly toxins in the atmosphere in lower Manhattan after 9/11 for fear public warnings
would damage the economy. Between dollars and lives, Bush chose the bottom line.
In Iraq, there have now been more American
soldiers killed since Bush's theatrical aircraft carrier landing off San
than before he announced the end of combat. More than two dozen have died since the president left Washington to
spend time roping and branding golf carts on his Texas ranch earlier this month.
Oh, and remember that deadly fleet of unmanned airplanes the Bush administration warned us Saddam Hussein was
fixing to launch at the United States unless we invaded Iraq? Upon further review, as they say during NFL games,
Air Force intelligence experts have decided they were harmless reconnaissance drones after all.
Determination aside, however, so far Democrats
appear to lack a candidate who seems a good bet to win. Of the nine
men and women running for the nomination, several--Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich, Carol Mosely-Braun--have no
chance whatsoever of securing the nomination. Despite high name-recognition, Sen. Joe Lieberman is going nowhere;
I've heard passionate Democrats say they might sit out a Bush-Lieberman contest.
North Carolina Sen. John Edwards once appeared
to have the requisite charisma, but voters seem to think he lacks
gravitas, to use the cliché of the moment. Whatever the reason, he's not catching on. Rep. Dick Gephardt has run
before without getting anywhere, and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts--another candidate who appeared to have
everything going for him, including Vietnam heroism--impresses people with his intelligence, toughness and thoughtfulness,
but has difficulty getting them to relate to him personally. "Cold" and "aloof" are the words you hear most often. Even if
that just means "tall Yankee," it's a problem.
Which brings us to the short Yankee in the
race, Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont. By all accounts, Dean appears the
odds-on favorite to win the nomination. Dean's brainy, quick-witted, aggressive, well-organized, a good fund-raiser,
has a cadre of passionate supporters and as impressive a track record as it's possible to have running a tiny, rural,
state like Vermont. Pundits have been underestimating his insurgent appeal almost as badly as they've been
overestimating Bush's fabulous popularity. Show me a state Bush lost to Gore in 2000 that he's a cinch to win in 2004.
See what I mean?
The worse things get in Iraq, moreover,
the better Dean's outspoken anti-war views could end up looking. But the
problems with a Dean candidacy begin when you start trying to name states Gore lost that the Vermonter looks likely
to win. OK, maybe New Hampshire. Even so, many Democrats can't get past the suspicion that Dean can't compete
in the South or the Midwest farm belt and would end up a virtuous, albeit spirited, loser.
Maybe that's why, as Amy Sullivan points
out in the September Washington Monthly
(http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0309.sullivan.html) the number of undecided Democratic voters
has actually been rising in recent months, and why, as she argues persuasively, there's still time for Gen. Wesley Clark
to win the nomination.
"Arguably," she writes "Clark matches each of
the strengths of the current crop of contenders, and then raises them one.
His Army background-stretching from Vietnam to Kosovo-out-oomphs Kerry's military record. His service as
commander of NATO forces compares favorably to Dean's executive experience as governor of a small New England
state. He adds gravitas to Edwards's aesthetic appeal, charisma to Lieberman's thoughtfulness, and sincerity to
Gephardt's liberal policies."
If Clark runs, he can win. And unlike Bush, if he wins, he can govern.
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