Joe Conason's Journal

The more Republicans attack Clark now, the more obvious it will become that he is the nominee of their nightmares.

By Salon Staff

Published September 17, 2003 7:04PM (EDT)

They smear because they fear
Americans ought to be inspired by Wesley Clark's announcement this afternoon, whether they agree with his views or not. For years now, political analysts have complained that the "best people" were reluctant to stand for elected office because of the incessant fundraising, petty press scrutiny, family pressures and sundry other unpleasant aspects of a national campaign. The price of public life had simply gotten too high even for the most highly qualified, strongly motivated patriots. The former NATO supreme commander and Rhodes scholar is unquestionably among America's best -- and he has decided to run, come what may.

What is coming already -- as my friend Hesiod points out in a fascinating, thorough post on Counterspin Central -- is the predictable sliming of Clark by his moral inferiors, descending from Rush Limbaugh to David Horowitz. Hesiod lists the first tranche of right-wing accusations against Clark, which of course contradict each other (he was too tough, he's not tough enough, and so on). Logic, fact, relevance and decency will in no instance be permitted to intrude on the smearing that is about to begin. The radio gabblers and the Internet nutcases will smear Clark because they and their master Karl Rove fear him.

It will be interesting to see how much of this the Republicans can perpetrate before their tactics start to backfire. But their real problem is that they don't know any other way to win an election -- and their sinking numbers could soon give rise to panic. The more they attack Clark now, the more obvious it will become that he is the nominee of their nightmares.

Clark pledged to avoid personal attacks and campaign on the issues -- a cliché so hoary that it is difficult to type. He may well mean to do so. But let no one, especially not in the Bush White House, think he isn't tough enough to strike back when they and their epigones come after him. The general has war-gamed this campaign -- and he knows exactly what this enemy will do to remain in power.
[11:30 p.m. PDT, Sept. 17, 2003]

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