September 14, 2003

The libertarian case for Clark

By: Jerry Brito

Many libertarians and conservatives are not happy with President Bush. They oppose Bush’s war in Iraq for reasons diverse and numerous. They also can’t forgive his profligate spending–especially his education pact with Ted Kennedy and his giant farm bill. And let’s not forget the tariffs his nominally free trade administration placed on steel.

But what alternative is there? Third parties are not serious contenders in American politics. And we’re not about to vote for a Democrat, are we? Well, don’t tell that to the Libertarians for Dean.

As one observer put it, when given a choice of bigger government and war, or bigger government and peace, many libertarians will pick an anti-war Democrat. Bigger government might even be avoided with a Democrat president. The Dean libertarians point out that divided government “historically keeps federal spending down, keeps America out of major military conflicts, and gives bipartisan reform its best chance at long-term survival.”

But Howard Dean won’t be the Democratic candidate for president in 2004. Like John McCain (who won the New Hampshire primary), he’s a maverick outsider squarely at odds with the party establishment–the ones who do the nominating. Dean has reportedly said behind closed doors that he wants to sack DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe and the Clinton legacy leadership there.

Establishment candidates John Kerry and Joe Lieberman don’t command the kind of enthusiasm necessary to truly challenge George W. Bush. So it looks like the field is ready for a new centrist Democrat who can beat Dean and give the President a run for his money.

This is why many believe retired General Wesley Clark will announce this week his bid for the Democratic nomination. It’s not too late for a real contender to join in; Bill Clinton didn’t enter the Democratic race until about the same time in 1991.

A happy McAuliffe has said, “If he gets in, we would welcome him.” And Bill Clinton panned the fielded candidates last week when he said the national Democratic Party had only “two stars”: his wife Hillary and Wesley Clark. Meanwhile AFSCME, one of the most important labor unions in the country, is delaying its endorsement process as it awaits word from Wesley Clark on whether he will seek the nomination.

Even Howard Dean has gotten the message and has reportedly offered the vice-presidential slot to the former NATO commander, perhaps in a desperate bid to preempt a Clark run. “This is a guy I like a lot,” Dean has said about Clark. “I think he’s certainly going to be on everybody’s list if he’s not the presidential nominee himself.”

What do we know about Clark? Not much. He has no political record, which is why he would be a valuable candidate against George Bush. He can come up with all of his positions now without the past haunting him.

What we do know about Clark is that unlike Bush and Dean, he gave 34 years of service to the military. Dean doesn’t even have any foreign policy experience; a big minus in a general election against Bush.

We also know Clark has consistently been against the war in Iraq–the main reason why some libertarians are interested in Dean. Unlike Dean, however, Clark’s military credentials give him the credibility to stake out such a position against Bush.

The bottom line is we don’t know much about Clark, and he is likely to be a tax and spend moderate “new Democrat” in the Clinton mold. But if he were to become president, a Republican Congress would hopefully keep his spending in check and keep the Bush tax cut secure. Howard Dean, on the other hand, is running on universal health. Plus, if Clark is anything like Bill Clinton, then he might recognize the importance of free trade, unlike Dean who sees tariffs as tool to promote human rights abroad.

To be clear, I’m not endorsing Clark or any other candidate. What I am saying is that the current field of viable Democratic contenders is weak and hopeless; President Bush could win in a landslide and claim a mandate. It would be healthier for the country if Bush–and his policies like the PATRIOT Act–were credibly challenged in 2004. Wesley Clark is the only one at this point who could really do this.

Although it is certainly too early to tell, I think Bush will ultimately win re-election. But if he doesn’t, would you rather have a President Dean or a President Clark? What’s the worst that can happen? Oh, yeah… a Vice-President Hillary.

Jerry Brito is editor of Brainwash and a student at George Mason University School of Law. His Web site is