Columns » Bob McCord

Clark's departure

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When Wesley Clark pulled out of the presidential race last week, a friend said, "Well, that means Little Rock won't be the only city with two presidential libraries." I had to admit that I had never thought of that. My regret was that I thought that Clark would have made a good President, and I'm one of those who think we need one. But honestly I didn't think he could win even if he had gotten the Democrat nomination because President Bush is so popular with more than half of the people 35 and over -- the ones who usually do most of the voting. The general made mistakes. First, he was the last person to enter the race, yet he was less known than the others who had been campaigning for months. Clark decided not to campaign in the Iowa primary, and Kerry ran and won, starting him on the road to the nomination. William Schneider, political analyst for CNN, told the Democrat-Gazette that Clark's ignoring Iowa "was a catastrophic blunder." One of Clark's problems was that he didn't know how to deal with the press. Several times he had to correct things he said on TV. As journalists will do, they ask hypothetical questions, and Clark, who had never run for any office before, tried to answer them rather than moving on to questions he was prepared to answer. It's almost certain now that Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts is going to be the Democrat nominee, especially since he just won easily in Tennessee and Virginia, two of those Southern states that usually don't vote for Yankees. Does it mean he will be elected? No one knows, of course, but among the candidates, he has more of the qualities that most voters like -- no scandals, a fine education, knows the leaders in this country and abroad, has experience as a prosecuting attorney, lieutenant governor and U.S. Senator for 24 years and has a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts for fighting in Vietnam where he decided that his country ought to go to war only when it was attacked. However, he is sedate, not the kind of a guy you would swap jokes with. He is also a liberal, and if he wins the nomination, we can be sure that the Bush campaign will distribute many pictures of him with Ted Kennedy and Jane Fonda. Sen. John Edwards seemed to get more popular every day, but continues to be overcome by Kerry. Edwards is smart, young, knows what it means to be poor and is the best speaker of all the candidates. He would make a fine vice president. But so would Clark. I talked about this with Dr. Cal Ledbetter, a former state legislator and a political scientist at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Ledbetter thinks Kerry could be elected but that it will be hard. He says Kerry's best chance is the security issue. "Bush will campaign that I am the commander in chief, I won the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq and I've saved you from terrorists. That's his strongest point. Now Kerry can speak to that as a decorated Vietnam veteran and defuse the security issue. Like the President's photo-op on the aircraft carrier, Kerry can say, 'I've have really been on an aircraft carrier.'" Ledbetter acknowledged that Kerry will have trouble in the South, but he said he might be able to win in Florida and maybe border states like Texas, Tennessee and maybe Arkansas. Could Clark be nominated for vice president? "It seems to me that he was pretty strong saying that he didn't want that job. Generals usually don't like to be in second place." I think the most serious problem the Democrats have is that Ralph Nader, age 70, is thinking about running for president again. He told the New York Times that he would make up his mind in the next few days. Founder of Public Citizen in 1971 and several other organizations, Nader did some great things in consumer protection. But in 1996 his ego got the best of him and he ran for President for the Green Party, a group of earnest conservationists. President Clinton, running for his second term, was nervous about it, but Nader only got 700,000 votes, 3,500 in Arkansas. It was different when he ran in 2000 because he actually kept Democrat Al Gore from becoming president because nearly 3 million liberals (13,205 in Arkansas) who regularly vote for Democrats voted for Nader. In that tight race, the Supreme Court halted a recount of the votes in Florida, which made George Bush the winner even though Gore got 540,000 more votes nationally than Bush did. Organizations that Nader had formed -- Public Citizen, Center of Auto Safety, Aviation Consumer Action Project, etc. -- took his name off their stationery when thousands of its members quit paying dues because they were so angry that Nader had made a conservative like Bush become President. Paul Hudson of the Aviation Project, told the Wall Street Journal: "If he runs again, it will be an even greater body blow to his stand and the causes he's supported and fought so hard for." Others who feel that way have posted web site, "RalphDon'tRun.net," and in two weeks 9,000 persons had responded to it. Asked about this by Melissa Block on National Public Radio, Nader, heavy with sarcasm, replied that it was "a marvelous demonstration of censorship by liberals." But the reporter said that the people were simply asking him not to run, not saying he can't. "They don't have a leg to stand on," Nader replied. I heard him when he came here campaigning in 2000. I didn't think he should run then and I certainly don't think he should now.

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