Make Room for Wesley

We welcome General Wesley Clark's indication this week that he will seek the presidency. At a time when foreign concerns occupy the nation's attention to a degree unparalleled since the heyday of the Cold War, the former head of NATO, who commanded the successful military action against Yugoslavia's Milosevic, has an expertise to offer that is unmatched by anybody else now running. We are now mired in what everybody concedes is a bona fide morass in Iraq. The diplomatic skills Clark acquired while directing the Western alliance's military arm could prove as useful as his expertise in the strategic aspects of combat. It is worth noting that an average of one American a day is now being killed in Iraq -- after President Bush's formal declaration of "victory" -- while the operations in Kosovo overseen by General Clark ended successfully without the loss of a single American. That's zero -- count 'em: none.

On domestic issues, what we have learned so far about General Clark is that he seems to have applied himself and fairly quickly acquired at least a basic understanding of a variety of matters -- the economy, education, and health care among them -- that will dominate debate as the campaign wears on. In this respect, he compares favorably with the incumbent president, whose expertise in key issues remains suspect.

Nor are we displeased that the general owns a vernacular and a drawl familiar to our ears, hailing as he does from Arkansas. The last time we heard someone who sounded like that talking from the White House, we had a budget surplus, booming financial markets, and smoothly running international alliances.

There are other Democrats running who make sense but, win or lose, Wesley Clark's candidacy will surely raise the tone of the debate.

What's That Again?

Meanwhile, our own congressman, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., attracted attention this week for what appears to have been a tentative agreement to co-sponsor one of those partial-privatization Social Security bills that Republicans customarily introduce in Congress. Ford danced away from the prospect, finally, but not before columnist Robert Novak had begun to lionize him for even thinking of it.

Democrat Ford, who concedes having received invitations from congressional Republicans to convert, doesn't shy from this kind of notoriety. As a member of the conservative-minded Democratic Leadership Council and the congressional "blue dog" caucus, Ford has made an effort to establish himself as a "black centrist" (that was how The New York Times once referred to him) and last year ran unsuccessfully under such a banner to lead his party in the House.

We believe in making virtue of necessity, and we would suggest that the congressman could make good use of his chosen identity by influencing swing voters in the House to do what the Senate, to its credit, did Tuesday -- namely, vote to rescind the recently adopted F.C.C. regulations that allow media conglomerates to acquire virtually unimpeded control of individual markets. The Senate could not have taken its commendable stand without the cooperation of various Republicans, including the recently notorious Trent Lott.

The companion vote is expected to be close in the House. Ford can -- and should -- help shape the outcome. Else, what's a centrist for?


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