The Style Contest: Nashville Paper Has It Down to Clark and Edwards

Nashville Scene (link good until Oct. 8)

So now there are 10. To our knowledge, none is gay, but the Democratic Party presidential lineup has just about every other facet of identity politics covered.

You've got the black preacher, Midwestern union man, old South pol, new South trial lawyer, Vermont liberal, Jew, former mayor in over his head, woman, affected Massachusetts millionaire and, in the last few weeks, an army general who parachuted into the race at the behest of the party's increasingly freaked-out conservative wing, which was getting its collective shorts in a wad at the prospect of all of the above.

Meet Wesley Clark, who adds a certain "wholeness" to the spectacle. If some view his campaign as yet more chaos, the truth is that Clark satiates the need for Democratic conservatives to stake their claim too. And it's not just the party's conservative wing. It's the realists, too, who have been growing ever more uneasy with the prospect of frontrunner Howard Dean going up against George Bush and getting his head punched in like a pumpkin.

Much of politics is about theory, democracy and doing good for people, but it often comes down to whether you feel comfortable taking your candidate to a Rotary Club meeting in your tiny hometown in Alabama and not having your friends laugh at you. Be honest, people: Does anyone think Howard Dean has a prayer with voters in Demopolis, Ala.? Would John Kerry not get completely laughed out of the city limits of Hattiesburg, Miss., with his painfully ponderous language? Would the wooden Dick Gephardt have his audiences screaming for more in South Carolina? And as he wound up his speech in the second hour, would those still awake clap for Lieberman, whose campaign speeches are nothing short of painful to watch? Need we even mention Dennis Kucinich? No Democrat can win without at least some support from America's conservative outposts. And few of the current crop of candidates have much of what it takes to appeal to them.
A critical part of America loves George Bush because he puts his cowboy boots on one at a time. He's got what Reagan had: a muscular sense of both himself and America. It helps, of course, to be a Republican in trying to exemplify toughness, but it's absolutely imperative that a Democrat have it because everyone assumes that he won't. Bill Clinton, the man who could be many things to many people, at least exuded--and delivered on--a sense of virility. Nobody doubted that he was really a man.

And so, in the style contest that is much of politics, we now have a military man, who was a Rhodes scholar and who supports both affirmative action and a woman's right to choose. Then there's that thing about being a hero, fighting wars for our country. Democrats being people who love to eat their own, it remains to be seen whether Clark can make up for his late entrance into the race. But mark our words, ladies and gentlemen: Only two Democrats have a shot.

John Edwards of North Carolina has a certain advantage simply because of the electoral math of being from the South. He's also a solid speaker, if a bit slick.

Then there's Clark. Sorry, Deanites, but we think all else is hopeless.
Having grown up in Demopolis, Alabama, I'd have to say that Dean might have a little hope there. The entire state may fall into the Red slot, but there's a Blue swatch right through the middle of Alabama, and Demopolis is right in the middle of it.

Of course, Clark would do better by far, but I'm sure there are a couple of Deaniacs running loose in the Vine and Olive colony...