Previously in Politics & Prose:

When the Sun Never Sets (June 6, 2003)
The nefarious effects of Bush's latest tax cut will continue on, and on, and on. By Jack Beatty.

Fatal Vision (May 1, 2003)
Can we control the forces of religion unleashed by the war in Iraq? By Jack Beatty.

A Country of Fear (April 2, 2003)
Iraq will be better off after the war. But will America? By Jack Beatty

In the Name of God (March 5, 2003)
Bush's rhetoric suggests that he feels God has chosen him to lead the U.S. against "Evil." Is that why Bush is dragging us into an unprovoked war? By Jack Beatty

The Road Better Not Taken (Februay 5, 2003)
A war against Iraq could be the most catastrophic blunder in U.S. history. By Jack Beatty

The Track to Modernity (January 2, 2003)
In a century of riotous change, the railroad's standardization of time stood out as a challenge to both nature and democracy. By Jack Beatty

More Politics & Prose in Atlantic Unbound.

Atlantic Unbound | July 9, 2003
Politics & Prose | by Jack Beatty
The Ideal Candidate

What qualities would someone need in order to defeat George W. Bush? An imaginary dialogue


"Bring 'em on."
—President Bush, daring Iraqi guerrillas to attack U.S. troops.

n New Hampshire a Harry-and-Louise-style radio ad is being broadcast featuring a couple designing the perfect candidate to run against George W. Bush. My version follows.

Man: It needs to be someone with credibility on national security.

Woman: How does this grab you—the former Supreme Commander of NATO!

M: Why not? And let's make him first in his class at West Point.

W: And a Rhodes Scholar.

M: And a thrice-wounded decorated veteran of the Vietnam War.

W: Pro-choice.

M: Pro-affirmative action.

W: With private-sector experience leading a company specializing in alternative-energy research to end our dependence on imported oil.

M: And to leave a cleaner environment for our kids.

W: Yes—and someone who would support restoring fiscal discipline so we won't blight their future with debt.

M: He's got to be from the South. The last three Democratic Presidents were southerners.

W: And the last three losers were from the North.

M: Articulate, with lots of experience on TV.

W: Handsome. Tall, graying, distinguished.

M: And imagine if you can a candidate who was, say, born an Orthodox Jew. Then, after his father's early death and mother's remarriage, raised as a southern Baptist.

W: And who converts to Catholicism in Vietnam.

M: The trifecta!

W: A critic of Bush's war in Iraq who is skeptical about Bush's...

M: misrepresentations...

W: ...lies about Saddam's WMD and the threat posed by a nation that spent $1 billion on defense last year to a nation that spent $400 billion.

M: A critic of Bush's unilateralism. Someone who has worked with our European allies and can stand up and say, "Our strength lies in our alliances. Going it alone is not an option in a world threatened by transnational terrorism. Multilateral cooperation is a necessity."

W: And why stop there? Imagine a candidate who would stand up for the UN! One who would remind Americans that it was our creation, that it can serve our interests in the Third World, which wants no part of U.S. "imperialism." Peace, justice, human rights—a reformed UN, supported by an American President sensitive to the dignity of other nations and committed to helping the poor countries, can lead the way to a better world.

M: We're dreaming. No candidate could be that good.

W: That right for these times.

M: That trustworthy on security issues.

W: That smart!

M: That non-political. Face it: the country can't stand politicians.

W: But suppose such a candidate did exist... Wouldn't he owe it to the country to run?

ANNOUNCER'S VOICE: Paid for by Draft Wesley Clark for President.


can't think of a man and moment better matched than retired general Wesley Clark and the 2004 presidential election. Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 is the only possible comparison. Clark, like Ike, was the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. Politically scarless and ambidextrous like Ike, Clark served with Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney in the Ford White House and led Bill Clinton's air campaign in Kosovo. As in 1952, with the Korean War stalemated, 2004 may be one of those rare presidential elections in which national security will be the salient issue. Clark is considering running as a Democrat; a draft-Clark movement is urging him to run. He would fill a vacancy. Four of the six serious Democratic candidates gelded themselves by voting for Bush's war. They cannot take Bush on where his strength is—national security and foreign policy. They can only cavil about the details of what by November 2004 will be an unpopular quagmire of an occupation. And if they say Bush deceived them into voting for the war resolution by manipulating the intelligence about Saddam's possession of WMD, they risk being seen as so many George Romneys—"brainwashed" as Romney, then Governor of Michigan, was by the Johnson Administration over Vietnam. Of the two candidates who did not support the war, Howard Dean would lose to Bush —his supporters must face political reality. As for Bob Graham, vehement as he has been about the Administration's subversion of democracy, he is a U.S. senator, and in the last hundred years Americans have elected only two senators. To be sure, they have elected only one General during that time. But if you ask which candidate Bush would least like to run against, the answer has to be General Wesley Clark.

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More Politics & Prose in Atlantic Unbound.

Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the editor of Colossus: How the Corporation Changed America, which was named one of the top ten books of 2001 by Business Week. His previous books are The World According to Peter Drucker (1998) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992).

Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.