November 10, 2002
WHITHER HAROLD FORD?:
Dispatches From the Democratic Convention: The Natural
(David Plotz, August 18, 2000, Slate)
As I listen and watch him, it occurs to me that Gore and the party leadership are interested in Harold for the wrong reasons. They like him because he is young, black, moderate, telegenic, and smart. And all of these are indeed good for the party. But Harold's real importance may be something else.
The Democratic Party is suffering from a pleasure deficit. Since 1992, the Democrats have been dominated by a politician who adores politics, and the party has thrived because of it. On Monday night Democrats said farewell to President Clinton and handed the party off to Gore, Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, and Dick Gephardt. The Democratic leaders showcased in Los Angeles may well be the most earnest, most public-policy-oriented, most intelligent group of politicians ever to head a major party. They are intellectually impressive, and they have the best intentions. But they don't really like their jobs. They are skeptical of politicking, or bad at it, or both. Gore, ever obedient, has learned to pretend to love campaigning, but it will never be a natural act for him. Say this for George W. Bush: He loves to shake hands.
On paper, Harold's brashness is arrogant. But in the flesh, it is joyful. Americans distrust politicians, and politicians have replied by hating themselves. They are ashamed of their work, they vow to term-limit themselves, they attack their own tactics, they believe themselves practitioners of a dirty profession. But Harold has no such pretense. He is entirely uncynical about his job. He likes being a politician and, more important, he is very good at it. That delight in tactics and glad-handing is a tonic for these dutiful Democrats.
To read this profile is not to find a man who will be content to be minority whip.
Posted by Orrin Judd at November 10, 2002 7:36 AM
Hmmm . . . It may be someone who is passionately committed to the Democratic Party and sees it self-destructing and is trying desperately to save it, even at the cost of antagonizing its leaders.
For a black, switching parties is a huge step. It would show true leadership. I hope you're right.
Isn't this sort of how Newt got started? I seem to recall a TNR
story about his rise, describing him railing against the GOP congressional leadership back in the early 80s, when he was a youngster, thus establishing his profile and inuring him against the general malaise of the party. Dems could do worse than to have the same sort of thing going on, lead by an obviously charismatic guy like Ford.
The difference is that Newt was a conservative revolting against the GOP moderates--he had the numbers and so they had to placate him. Harold Ford has a posse of maybe twenty people---as Martin Froist's rapid surrender showed--and no prayer of dragging the Party to the Right.
As I've argued before, the Democrats all hang together, and pressure one another to hang together, because much of their base votes on greed/fear -- greed for govt money, for privileges that can lead to money like favorable tort laws or union monopolies, or fear that racists will drag them from pickups or that cackling corporate executives will poison them with arsenic. This kind of greed/fear dynamic loses its force if Republicans are in power and can show, not just tell, what their true priorities are. The out-of-power unknown is far scarier than the in-power familiar, and only by being in power can the Dems serve the greedy.
I think what we'll see in the Dems is a long period of disunity. They'll no longer have a sufficiently strong motive to sacrifice their individual consciences for a party unity that can now deliver little.
I think the Newt analogy is a good one. When the Pelosi-left strategy fails, the party will look for a moderate leader who can pull turnout from their black base. When the pendulum swings his way, Ford will have positioned himself as the logical Dem leader, as an authentic moderate who took that position when it wasn't popular and held it consistently. And he's getting national publicity with his leadership fight.
So, Orrin, I would love for you to be right, but I think he'll probably be some Republican's nightmare opponent in 15 years.
Well, Ford is clearly positioning himself, even if he fails now, to take over later.
His problem, though, is what if Pelosi moves the Democratic Party to the Left, and this causes them to lose marginal seats? When there's national swings, it's not the ultraliberal seats the Dems lose (or ultraconservatives for the Reps). Both sides tend to lose moderate seats.
So, by the time Ford is proven right, the Democratic Party's House delegation could be even more leftist. Of course, at some point a desire to win would turn them around.
(All this is just hypothetical.)
It was never truer: Whom God would destroy, He first makes mad.
He doesn't have to advance through the House leadership. He can run for Senator or for Governor, and then for President. He can appeal to ordinary Democratic voters, not the elite.
I think the question is, how does Ford regard conservatives? If he thinks conservatives are decent people who are right about a lot of things, then he can find a home in the Republican party. If he feels that Republicans are wrong, then he's going to try to fix the Democrats.
The Salon story mentions that he's a member of the "Blue Dogs", the moderate/conservative Democrat caucus in the House, and is certainly the most conservative black member of the House (though, considering the ideological balance of the Congressional Black Caucus, that may not be saying all that much, admittedly). I'd say that provides a fairly good clue about how he views conservatives.
I really don't think he'll switch to the Republicans though, at least not now. I think he's more focused on trying not to let the hard left capture the Democratic Party and drive it off yet another 1972/1984-type cliff.
Running for statewide office in TN as a Democrat seems like a dubious proposition. Whereas he'd be a lock as a Republican.
There's a good article on Ford here
Joe: Yes, he's in these moderate groups, but is that because he has to be a moderate to have any shot at statewide office in TN? He may be much more liberal than his group affiliations suggest.
I agree that Ford's chances for progress would be better as a Republican, but remember, he got so far so fast in politics because of his father's liberal base. Many of those people in Memphis might feel betrayed by a party switch. I can't see Ford wanting to abandon his black base. If he switches, I think he'll wait until he has a long record of Democratic offenses to complain about, and until Republicans have made more progress among blacks. He's young and can afford to wait a few years before making such a Rubicon-crossing move.