I know this will sound stupid, but at the risk of that (and at the risk of being repetitive) I am going to say it anyway: Wesley Clark is a better candidate than John Kerry.
The theme — of an anti-war warrior — makes Clark and Kerry roughly the equivalent of each other. But let’s look at which man carries more baggage.
Kerry, an antiwar leftist of the Vietnam school, is a Vietnam veteran with an exemplary combat record. But that seems to be his only song. Vietnam is old already, and by the time the election runs around, the Iraq-is-another-Vietnam harangue will be pretty tired, and pretty hollow. (It may be already.)
Clark has committed some of stupidest gaffes in the race, and as I stated before he may already be finished. What this proves is he is not a slick politician, and that he needs better handlers. But his anti-war message is much more up-to-date than Kerry’s. He should not have belittled Kerry’s war record as he did, but that should not obscure a simple fact: the masses of voters would have far more respect for a four star general than a lieutenant on military matters. And if this election is going to be about the war in Iraq (itself a possibly mistaken strategy), then I think that the common sense of the voters would consider more carefully — and take more seriously in the heart — an antiwar message from a general than from a lieutenant.
This may sound unfair, but I am afraid it is reality.
The flaws of either man may be argued to death, and it may well be that neither can beat Bush. But I think Clark would have a better chance. Once the dust settles, if the theme is along the lines of “I’m a military man and I’m against the war!” Clark’s rank will count for more with the voters.
I think it boils down to simple math.
Attacks on Clark for alleged “war crimes”, while they may help Kerry now, only illustrate the shortsightedness of the Kerry strategy.
I hate to sound overly Machiavellian (or overly Roman) and I don’t wish to be seen as a Clark supporter, because I am not. But the stuff I pointed out before (Kerry’s vintage anti-war activism) is, in 2004, a losing strategy.
Clark is of course the hand-picked candidate of Bill Clinton or his wife, which is seen as a liability.
Should it be? Is it thinking the unthinkable to ask whether Bill and Hill might be a little better at thinking ahead?
I previously said,

My money is still on Clark, because the anti-war general theme still seems like the best triangulation strategy.

I know I’ve already lost my “money.”
(The election, however, is not mine to lose!)
UPDATE: It’s official now! Clark is history. (Via Glenn Reynolds.) Now it’s time for me to make good on my bet, I guess….