Outgoing Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden and exiled-to-Colorado former Senator Gary Hart aren‘t exactly newcomers; indeed, each was compelled to drop out of the 1988 presidential race as the result of scandals (in Hart’s case, concerning his private life; in Biden‘s, his fictitious life -- he had appropriated some of British pol Neil Kinnock’s autobiography into his own stump speech). These long shots are testing just how wide the window for national-security candidates actually is. Hart‘s credentials are the more impressive: He co-chaired a terrorism commission that warned the nation of possible al Qaeda attacks before 911, and he’s a trenchant critic of Bush‘s go-it-alone obsessions.
When it comes to national-security candidates, though, Hart, Biden and Kerry -- and George W. Bush -- all take a back seat to Wesley Clark, Bill Clinton’s fellow Arkansan and Rhodes scholar, who as NATO commander is linked to both the idea of humanitarian intervention and its successful application in Kosovo. Clark is a Democrat who‘s reportedly not all that crazy about Bush’s foreign adventurism -- and that about exhausts what we know of him. (It‘s worth recalling that the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, just after its founding in 1947, spent its first months trying to recruit a prominent general with no discernible political record to challenge Harry Truman in the Democratic primaries. Dwight Eisenhower declined, though four years later he announced he was a Republican and won the White House.) Clark’s operatives have been meeting with Washington political players in recent weeks; for now, his intentions are somewhat clearer than his beliefs.
General Clark‘s intentions, however, are a lot less clear than the Reverend Al’s. While Sharpton‘s racial demagogics have grown less noxious and genuinely dangerous than they were 15 years ago, he has still to repudiate his onetime incitements to violence. His race-based candidacy could take much of the black vote out of play in the primaries, accentuating a racial rift that could have potentially disastrous consequences for the party and its eventual nominee.
What the field doesn’t have is a Beltway maverick, someone like Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, a good-government type whose “process liberalism” might play well in Iowa and New Hampshire. Feingold‘s a Reform Jew and Lieberman’s Orthodox, rendering the Reconstructionists a key swing constituency. I hope that clears everything up.