Let me come out of the political closet: First, I ain’t voting for Bush come November. This is not shocking news. Second, I want Wesley Clark to be the Democratic nominee for the President of the United States. I want him to be the nominee for two reasons: First, as an overall political package, he appeals to me personally. By and large, I like his positions, and I like his personality and personal history. Second, he is the Democratic candidate who has, by far, the best chance of getting white men to vote for him, and white guys, for better or worse, are going to be the key demographic for this election.
Let’s be real for a moment, shall we. Republicans win presidencies because they’ve got the White Guy vote in their pocket, and have for 30 years — even Clinton didn’t win their vote (though he closed the gap, which with the help of Perot was enough). They’re 40% of the total electorate, which is nothing to sneeze at. The reasons white guys vote Republican will be the subject for an entirely different entry, but ultimately the psychology of the White Man Vote is simple: White guys are status freaks. Directly related to this, they don’t like to show need, or be associated with those who show need, and are terrified of the consequences of being seen with either.
The Republican party, not to put too fine a point on it, is the party concerned with bolstering the position of those already on the top of the heap, and white guys are all about that kind of bolstering, even if on an individual level it works against them. Conversely, the Democratic party is traditionally the party of the Little People Who Need Help, and white guys don’t like entertaining the notion they might need help. If they’re not going to ask for directions, or visit a doctor until they’re bleeding from a major orifice, they’re sure as hell not going vote Democratic.
Unless the Democrats have a candidate who clearly and ably plays to the white man’s pathological need for reassurance that voting Democratic doesn’t make him look like a sissy. Like, say, a Silver Star-winning former Supreme Allied Commander of Europe who kicked ass in Kosovo without a single American killed. Who is also, lest we forget, a son of the South, where the most white (that is, most paranoid and status-conscious) of white men live.
Who else among the Democratic candidates has that going? Toss out Kucinich, Sharpton and Mosely-Braun, who have no real chance and are effectively campaigning for future speaking fees anyway. Toss out Lieberman, who despite his moralistic streak is not going anywhere with anyone. Gephardt likewise is politically stale and uninspiring. Kerry has the military service, but he’s from the north. Edwards is from the south, but he’s got no military experience, and anyway, everybody knows that Edwards is running for VP (including, one suspects, Edwards himself).
That leaves Howard Dean, the current Democratic front-runner, with no military service and no ties to the South. Unlike many who are panicked that a Dean nomination will mean a landslide victory for Bush, I happen to think Dean can win (particularly if he puts someone like Edwards in his VP slot). But it means writing off the South and writing off white guys in general, at least in terms of the campaigning strategy, and of course that makes it harder for the Democrats to win. However, with Clark, the Democrats won’t have to default to writing off either the South or the white guy vote, and that’s a powerful advantage.
There’s also the matter that Clark implicitly makes George Bush look like a wimp and a dolt: While Bush was putatively defending Texas airspace from surprise attack by the Vietnamese, Clark was getting shot up and down his entire right side by them. While Bush was a Yale legacy and a “C” student, Clark was first in his class at West Point and a Rhodes Scholar. In all personal respects, he wipes the floor with Dubya, and unlike other Democratic candidates, he’s willing and able to slam back at people who criticize him for criticizing Bush’s military decisions — his famous browbeating of the Fox news anchor who tried to ambush him is proof of that, not to mention his own not-insignificant experience as a commander of American forces.
The question here is whether Clark can actually get the nomination. I don’t see why not. Dean is indeed far ahead of other candidates at this point, and I suspect has the best chance to win the nomination. However, of all the other candidates out there, there’s Clark, who has a lesser but still-realistic chance of grabbing the brass ring from Dean, and all the rest of candidates, who do not. In realpolitik terms, it’s already a two-man race, so from here on out the challenge for Clark will be to gain headway against Dean’s juggernaut.
Here’s the critical thing, and the major difference between a Clark nomination and a Dean nomination: If Dean fails in the primary stretch and Clark gets the nomination, I’d say the chances are very good that the people Dean brings into the voting booth are going to vote for Clark. But if Clark loses out and Dean gets the nomination, the converse is not true — and that’s because of the two men, Clark is the one who is more able to deliver votes outside the Democratic mainstream: The vote of a substantial number of white men. Without Clark, those votes go to Bush, not Dean.
It’s a bit of political calculus Democrats ought to remember when they step into their primary voting booths. Ultimately, the goal isn’t merely to pick the presidential candidate of one’s choice, it’s also to pick a presidential candidate who can win. Dean can win. But Clark can win easier. After the 2000 election, and with the economy now in an apparent upswing, the Democrats should give themselves all the advantages they can get.