Friday, October 03, 2003

Why the Democratic leader needs to be a Democrat

I haven't talked much about the issue of Wesley Clark's party allegiance partially because I'm uncomfortable with the whole topic (after all, I was a registered Independent until I got involved with the Dean campaign) and partially because I think Dean is wrong to repeatedly label Clark as a Republican. But TAPPED makes some good points in a post about why it is important that the leader of the Democratic party be a Democrat.

[...] a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination is asking people not just to consider him as an individual, but as a potential leader of the party in whose name he is running. His role is not just to explain why he should be selected as the nominee, but to explain to the nation why the values and policies of his chosen party are ones they should support, too. If Clark wants to lead the Democrats -- as well as America -- his job is to explain why people should register as Democrats, donate to Democrats and vote for Democrats, not just donate to and vote for him.

American politics is driven more by personality then by party allegiance, and in that sense Clark is a great candidate. But the real job of governing often depends more on party then on personality. The Republicans have proven this by establishing a strong precedent of party allegiance in their members (Reagan's 11th commandment and all). Their united front has allowed them to dominate the policy debate. Any particular Democrat may be able to beat any particular Republican in a battle of personalities. But winning the war over who controls the destiny of this nation will require more than just a few personalities. It will require a concerted effort at multiple levels of government and only a solid and cohesive party can do that.

The Democrats need to be united at all levels. Can they do that while being led by a man who has, until recently, demonstrated serious political ambivalence? Clark's protestations to the contrary, it is hard not to see his recent embrace of the party as nothing more than political opportunism (i.e., he had a better chance of making an impact as a Democrat than as a Republican).

I do not know if this criticism is accurate. But it is certainly fair. It is a question that will dog Clark for the foreseeable future. He will need to address it. Especially if he is going to win over Dean supporters should he win the nomination.

Not that I am sure that Dean can unite the party either. Dean certainly has the largest and most committed base of any candidate out there. But he has also pissed off a lot of establishment Dems with his "Bush-Lite" rhetoric. Dean's criticism of the party has been a spot-on wakeup call. But it will be difficult for some of the people that Dean has attacked to swallow their pride and get behind him if he should win the nomination.

But, at least Dean has the advantage that few are questioning his Democratic credentials.


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