RALEIGH — As a young lady named Isabel is preparing to throw quite a tantrum around these parts, I’m having trouble focusing on anything else. But a thought did occur to me, following up on yesterday’s discussion about how Gen. Wesley Clark’s announcement of a presidential bid undercut the long-scheduled announcement by fellow Southern Democrat John Edwards.
Hope you don’t mind if I share.
It’s obvious that, tactically, Clark’s leak on Tuesday was designed to distract attention from Edwards’ free-media tour. That’s a bruising political reality, but not necessarily nefarious. Clark’s team evidently believes that he must occupy some of the same space in the still-open Democratic field that Edwards does, hence the decision to rain on the North Carolina senator’s parade.
But there’s a worse implication of all this. The Clark candidacy isn’t a sudden event. The “Draft Clark” movement has been underway for months. Active speculation about how and when Clark would announce has been going on for many weeks. So there was clearly plenty of time to think through his plans and schedule.
Assuming that Clark and his aides believe he truly has a shot at the nomination, wouldn’t it have occurred to any of them to let Edwards know ahead of time what their plans were? He’s the only serious Democrat in the race whose seat on Capitol Hill is really up for grabs this year (Florida Sen. Bob Graham isn’t serious, so he doesn’t count). It was a high-stake action, both for Edwards and for a Democratic Party trying to retake the Senate majority in 2004, for the incumbent to voluntarily walk away from a re-election bid and go for the gold as Edwards did officially a week or so ago. Perhaps, if he had known what Clark was about to do, Edwards would have decided to wait a while to announce his re-election plans, just to see.
It looks, in other words, like not only that Clark and Co. decided to target Edwards right out of the gate, but that they didn’t consider the possibility that their quasi-covert campaign may have imperiled their party’s chances in a key, competitive Senate seat.
For Clark, this isn’t shocking. He’s not a party man. He’s is own man, in the strongest negative sense of that term. But if the rumors are true and the Clintons are using their former aides and allies to orchestrate this, then the question is why they would choose a course seemingly so fraught with peril for their party’s prospects.
The answer comes quickly. Just think back over the 1990s. Bill Clinton shimmied his way through, surviving crisis after crisis, in part by savaging his own party’s political standing. Few presidents have overseen so significant a loss of power by their political factions during their administrations. The Democrats went from the majority party in both houses of Congress in 1990 to the minority (barely) in 2000. Democrats lost seats in state legislatures almost every cycle during the Clinton years, gave up key local posts such as big-city mayors, and went from a majority of governorships to a minority.
But Clinton survived. He served out two full terms — the best Democratic performance in the White House since FDR. So what if his party crumbled around him? Democrats could still bask in his reflected glory.
Now, with Hillary Clinton’s future presidential aspirations in the mix, Bill has a chance to get back into the White House. History repeats itself.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.