Prince Harold22 Apr 2004
The Nashville Scene had an article last week about Harold Ford. Ford is being hailed already as a potential choice of opponent for Bill Frist’s vacant seat in 2006. The article is very lauditory of Ford, painting him as a sort of super-Democrat. However, it’s also fairly irresponsible and in the end, to me, paints a very unflattering portrait of Harold Ford.
Let’s start with a high-level summary of Ford’s place in the political spectrum:
Instead, Ford chose a third path. Rather than being a do-nothing congressman or a knee-jerk leftist automaton, Ford is extremely active and explicitly centrist in his political orientation. He is a Bill Clinton Democrat, ideologically far removed from Howard Dean, and not even in the same solar system as Al Sharpton or Dennis Kucinich.
First, we have the “outsider appeal” angle. History is rife with examples of the “outsider centrist” who is going to come into government and shake things up, giving the boot to the “do-nothing congressmen” and the “knee-jerk leftist automatons”. I think their track record is pretty clear. I’ll pass, thanks.
And Kucinich and Sharpton are lumped in with the lot of the knee-jerk leftist automatons – for daring to campaign for change, I guess, especially for those crazy “leftist” goals, such as “health care”, “racial equality” and “peace”. (Also, critics of Kucinich should really get their story straight – is he a lunatic or an automaton? I can’t keep it straight.)
But enough with the vagueries. Where does Ford actually stand on some issues that typically delineate Democrat from Republican and conservative from liberal? How about social security:
He’s also been vocal about the Social Security issue, working with conservatives–including the libertarian Cato Institute–on ways to restructure the program. He is even open to some level of privatization for Social Security accounts, though he would not go nearly as far as many conservatives would.
Oh, good. It’s great to see that our Democrats are so bold as to “not go nearly as far” as conservatives. The author then reassures us that his stance on social security’s solvency is justified (by resorting to a falsehood):
Ford’s policy interests tend to reflect his youthful lifestyle and post-baby boomer outlook. The Social Security situation concerns him in part because his generation may never see the money.
His generation may never see the money? Pardon? Ford is 33 years old, meaning that he’ll reach retirement age – 65 – in 2036. Drawing on a worst-case scenario for funding, in 2036, social security will be drawing on its trust fund (created specifically for this purpose), which will last easily until 2041. After 2041, projected revenue will only cover 2/3 of anticipated pay-outs (in a worse-case scenario) – a situation easily remedied by simply removing the $84,900 income cap on the payroll taxes that fund social security. But you’d never hear such a straightforward proposal from a Republican like Ford. Er, a Democrat – I meant Democrat.
Ford’s generation is not facing any retirement crisis from social security save artificial ones that we create for ourselves. The Scene’s complicity in furthering this myth is irresponsible. (See the EPI’s fact sheet on social security for more.)
A smattering of other stances:
What about issues already on the table, like the war in Iraq? He’s all over that one. “I believe the country’s safer with Saddam Hussein in jail. I’m a hawk.” Gay marriage? He’s against it, but might consider allowances for “something else.” The Bush tax cuts? He’s a little iffy here. Ford’s not much on class warfare. (“I’m not a Democrat who thinks rich people have too much,” he says over a giant salad–dressing on the side, please–at the West End Houston’s. “I don’t think enough people have the chance to get rich.”) But he predicts the budget deficit may need a crash cart soon enough. Listen to Ford talk, and he is the very measure of a modern Southern Democrat.
So, let me get this straight. He signed the Dec 2001 letter in support of removing Saddam Hussein. He’s against gay marriage. He promotes unnecessary social security privatization, and he doesn’t think rich people have too much. The very measure of a modern Southern Democrat? Sorry, no.
I believe Ford represents what is wrong with the Democratic party in many ways. Centrism and pragmatism mask what is essentially a startling lack of principle and conviction. Ideals once held dear by the Democratic party are thrown aside in favor of “straight-talking” and “compromise”.
Ford may be an appealing candidate – both attractive and conservative – but if he’s the best the Democrats have to offer, it’s a sad day indeed for liberals in the south. I am not impressed.