When I first heard of Clark's voting past I agreed with Michael - hell, a lot of people voted for Reagan and Nixon and it would be nice if some of them voted Dem. this time around. Recently I've begun to change my mind. While still think Dean's attack that Clark is a Republican is stupid, I am worried about Clark's Presidential votes.
The big problem I have always had with Clark is he has no voting history I can use to estimate what he really cares about or understand how he thinks about problems. All I know about him is what he says now, that he was the NATO leader in Kosovo and that he was a Rhode's Scholar (I admit this is an over simplification) and how he has voted in past elections. His votes are the only history I have on his views of policy decisions. I don't care so much how he voted, rather I am interested in why he voted for Reagan and Nixon - why did he feel their policies were good for America, why were they better than the policies of McGovern and Mondale? The more and more I think of this the less convinced I am that Clark could give me an answer that would satisfy (although I still give it greater than 50% chance there is an acceptable excuse out there).
The reasons I can come up with are:
1) He, like many other people in this country, wasn't paying close enough attention to what Nixon and Reagan were doing, was caught up in their personalities (more Reagan than Nixon) and thought the country was in good enough condition to vote for the incumbent. After all Reagan and Nixon got a lot of votes and a lot of people don't pay as much attention to the policies as I would like when they vote.
My problem with this is: While, I think holding an elected position is a good thing prior to being President, I don't think it is a requirement. I do, however, believe a history of thinking about domestic policy is as close to a requirement as I have (after your current view on policies) and voting for Reagan and Nixon, especially Reagan, suggests he wasn't paying very much attention to domestic policies.
2) He wasn't too keen on them, but he liked them better than McGovern and Mondale (they were too liberal or something).
My problem with this: I see a fair number of democrats (some of them at dk) who thought McGovern and Mondale were too liberal / old school democrats. I doubt very many of them thought M&M were worse than N&R. Hell, Joe Lieberman is considered a fairly conservative Democrat and I doubt he voted for either Nixon or Reagan. Again, I would want to know why he thought Reagan's policies were better than Mondale's. In addition, if he was concerned about policies (as I think is important - see above) I would like to know Clark voted in the Democratic primary to find someone he liked more than Nixon or Reagan - I don't remember 1972, but I remember Hollings was in the 1984 primary.
3) He did agree with them, but has come to realize they were wrong (it is important to me that he currently thinks Nixon and Reagan didn't deserve second terms).
I would probably accept this one as long as he explained why he had supported their ideas and why he didn't now.
The fact he hasn't done this isn't his fault, I don't think anyone has asked him - they have just accused him of being a Republican (James Jeffords used to be a Repub. and I bet Dean would support him). This is where the lack of actual thought in the news reporting and the debates kills me - the only way to get any nuanced look at someone's views is listen to them give a speech and those are a bit one-sided.
Accusing Clark of being a Repub is similar (in my mind) to Jim Lehar asking Gore and Bush what US military interventions of the last 20 years they supported and which they didn't - it was an interesting start, but the real insight comes from asking why they supported or didn't support specific actions or policies.