Left-Handed Compliments

Can Progressives Love a Military Man?

"Had Bush Sr. been re-elected in '92, I doubt that his policies would have been significantly worse than Clinton's, and there would have been a strong counterforce pushing the country in a different direction," says Tikkun's Michael Lerner. "Instead, we chose Clinton and got an undermining of liberal thinking by the person who supposedly represented that thinking." This subversion laid the foundation for Dubya. By electing a Democrat like Clark or Dean, who are really "moderate Republicans," Lerner says, we may be "creating someone even worse than Bush." The only solution is "an attractive candidate who articulates a clearly alternative worldview."

If that seems like sci-fi, it isn't. But neither is it an option now—and we are living in a material world. So, to pose the classic leftist question, what is to be done? The answer is to ask more questions.

With Rush Limbaugh, William Safire, and Andrew Sullivan gunning for him, Clark is making all the right enemies. But what does he stand for? "Is Clark really anti-war?" vanden Heuvel wonders. "We now learn that he's confused. Is he a populist on economics? Unlikely. He's someone we should scrutinize. But he's also someone who's been ushered into this campaign by Clinton and Michael Moore." In fact, Moore issued an open letter urging Clark to run. Not a popular move among radicals interviewed for this piece—but it shows how drawn many progressives are to a maybe-liberal who looks like a winner, even though he may be "a hologram," as blackcommentator's Glen Ford maintains.

Is this bad faith or sauve qui peut—save what you can? Perhaps the more salient question is: Can Clark catch fire beyond the left? It may be that progs, for all their aversion to war, have an exaggerated view of what military credentials are worth. Praising the people and passing the ammunition may not be a winning combo for most voters. In the end, Americans may prefer a National Guard dropout who knows how to wear a flight suit to a real warrior.

The future of progressive politics depends not just on its vision but on its image. So perhaps the best advice the left can give any candidate is to stay away from Naomi Wolf. As Al Gore learned too late, earth tones = death.

Research assistance: Matthew Phillp

Related Story:
"Wesley Clark's Changing Tune on Iraq" By Sydney H. Schanberg

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