Jewish World Review Jan. 26, 2004 / 3 Shevat, 5764
The big hitters step up
The Democratic candidates' debates have been like baseball in May -
slow, mostly dull contests at the start of an interminable season.
Thursday night's debate in New Hampshire was different. Sure the
Rumble in the Tundra featured the usual cliches packaged as
one-minute profundities delivered in the by-now familiar styles of the
remaining seven players. But in politics, like baseball, timing is
everything. The Iowa caucuses put us past the All-Star break and into
the pennant race. People are starting to really pay attention.
That's bad news for Howard Dean and Wesley Clark.
Dean, of course, needed a big play in New Hampshire to get past his
Iowa breakdown. He didn't get it. All he did was set up Al Sharpton's
patronizing jibe: "If I had spent the money you did and got 18%, I'd still
be in Iowa hooting and hollering." Sharpton was sticking a cruel needle
into a busted Internet bubble. Dean may be a doctor, but he started his
career on Wall Street, and it shows. Up close, he's nothing more than a
cynical suit who raised a pot of money from teenagers, gullible yuppies
and boomer malcontents.
Clark was supposed to be the antidote to Dean. Instead, he is competing
with him for the paranoid wing of the party. In the debate, he was given
a chance to disassociate himself from his supporter Michael Moore's
charge that President Bush was a Vietnam-era deserter - and turned it
Peter Jennings asked, with evident astonishment, if Clark actually
believed the allegation. Clark replied that he hadn't bothered to check it
out, but hey, Moore is a great American and everybody has the right of
"A lot of people say it," Clark observed blandly - the same explanation
Dean gave earlier this year for mentioning the "theory" that Bush knew
in advance about 9/11.
Clark also was chided for being a Democrat of convenience. In fact, he
appears to be a bipartisan concoction, part Howard Dean, part Richard
Nixon, with a touch of Alexander Haig. Putting down John Kerry as a
junior officer was just the sort of Haigian grandiosity you'd expect from
a general who's spent his life judging people by their rank.
Kerry may have been a short-term lieutenant, but he's been running for
President all his life, and it shows. During the debate, he kept his
composure and adhered to the Hippocratic oath of electoral politics:
"First, do no harm to yourself." That may not sound like much, but in
this field, it could be enough.
John Edwards also had a good debate in New Hampshire, despite the
fact that he mangled the Defense of Marriage Act (not the night's worse
blunder; Sharpton confused the Federal Reserve Board with the
International Monetary Fund).
Edwards is an attractive candidate, more animated than Kerry and
much more telegenic. Still, when he was asked about his lack of
presidential qualifications after only one term in the Senate, he
squirmed. The fact is, he's too green to be top banana, especially in
wartime. It doesn't mean he can't get nominated, only that he's about as
electable as Wendell Wilkie.
Joe Lieberman and Dennis Kucinich formed the ideological bookends
of the debate. Kucinich, who wants to pay reparations to Iraq, will
probably get almost as many votes in New Hampshire as Lieberman,
the only candidate who supports the war, tax cuts, motherhood and
apple pie. At one point he even invoked the name of G-d.
These views put Lieberman on the party fringe. That's why, absent a
Bush breakdown, the Democrats - no matter who it is they nominate -
aren't going all the way in the 2004 season.
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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.
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