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Obama/Clark?

9:50 AM, Jun 3, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
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With Hillary Clinton perhaps ready to finally return to Chappaqua like a latter-day but defeated Cincinnatus, we can turn our attention to something that really matters - Barack Obama's choice of running mate. There's been a significant boomlet for Jim Webb recently as he's one of the few Democrats with military bona fides. But Webb's dubious record regarding the fairer sex seems unlikely to mollify the bitterly disappointed Hillary supporters who are threatening to vote for McCain.

So where do the Democrats turn? Lefty blogger Matt Stoller thinks he has the perfect answer: Wes Clark! Clark not only has military credentials, but Stoller argues "the guy won a war using multi-lateral strategies with zero American casualties." While that summation vastly overstates Clark's purported heroics (and redefines "war" in a rather dramatic way), Clark did look good in a uniform and had great grades at West Point.

In spite of Stoller's enthusiasm for Clark, one problem related to the retired general leaps to mind. Clark ran for president before and was a simply awful candidate. How does Stoller deal with the this potential stumbling block? He denies it.

Clark, though not in elected office, has a better sense (than Jim Webb) of what it's like to run for President. He has after all done it before, and for a neophyte, he did very well.

Stoller later reminds the readers of his post that Wes Clark was the guy who brought him into politics, so perhaps one can infer that Stoller's fondness for his erstwhile mentor blinds him to the actual history. Wes Clark came to the Democratic race in 2004 as a potential savior. Most of the party had little enthusiasm for a top tier of candidates that consisted of John Kerry, Howard Dean, John Edwards and Dick Gephardt. Clark looked like a leader and a president, something that none of the other candidates could pull off. Thanks to his glittering résumé and telegenic ways, Clark immediately zipped to the top of the polls upon entering the race.

And yet a few months later when Iowa and New Hampshire voted, Wes Clark was no longer part of the top tier. He had drifted down to Kucinich-ville. Why? Because he ran an absolutely awful campaign. What should rattle Democrats lining up to participate in a Clark boomlet even more is that he came across as disastrously not-ready-for-primetime, making several unforced errors. Need proof of how bad a politician Wes Clark was? Look at who beat him. In many ways, Wes Clark's 2004 campaign mirrored Fred Thompson's run this cycle. Both of them peaked their first day in the race.

Matt Stoller is a pretty sharp guy, probably the most insightful progressive in the blogosphere. His championing of Clark reveals how thin the Democratic bench is. It also shows how desperately a campaign fronted by Barack Obama and opposing John McCain needs a running mate who will lend the ticket at least a patina of gravitas.

In the one political race he ran before, Wes Clark was an unmitigated disaster. And yet he still may be the best the Democrats can do.