Last week, my advice for the Democratic Party was a paraphrase of Horace Greeley: “Go Left, Young Man!” This week, I want to suggest something paradoxical: The Democrats should have elected Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., as minority leader of the House of Representatives.
I want to be very clear about a few things. For starters, my politics are much, much closer (if not identical) to the person Ford challenged – Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. For example, in 2000, the Americans for Democratic Action gave Pelosi a 100 percent rating, which, for liberals like me, is as good as it gets. Likewise, in the same year, the American Civil Liberties Union gave her a 92 percent rating, which is almost as good as it gets. She stands with working people and can prove it – the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Union gave her a 100 percent. The news gets even better: She earned a 0 percent from the Christian Coalition and a whopping 8 percent from the American Conservative Union.
By comparison, Ford looks like a reactionary. For the same year as Pelosi, his ADA rating was measly 60 percent, his ACLU was even less at 58 percent, and AFSCME liked him a little better, giving him a 71 percent. Meanwhile, the ACU gave him a 24 percent – three times what Pelosi earned. Unfortunately for my taste, coming from the wrong bunch of guys, it was three times nothing.
So why do I think Ford was the better choice? Because given the electoral disaster that Democrats experienced at the ballot box on Nov. 5, it may be time to put aside politics to think about party unity. Who do we Democrats want to represent this party going forward?
When out of power, as we surely are, the party only has three faces – the House minority leader, the Senate minority leader and the chairman of the Democratic Party. Right now, these last two posts are filled with men who, while honorable, didn’t fare especially well with the voters. Both have been typecast by Republicans – Terry McAuliffe as an anything-to-win puppet of the Clintons and Tom Daschle as the bitterly partisan, obstructionist Senate majority leader. Like all typecasting, this conceals much more than it reveals about these two very good men.
But to the Democratic Party, the damage has been done.
So where stands Pelosi? Not with the ADA or even with your humble columnist, but with the American people?
As I write this, she’s also in the process of being unfairly typecast by the faithful flaks of the Republican Party. “Latte Liberal,” screams one conservative; “San Francisco Democrat,” says another. And in a hysterical article – fit for the year 1950 – a columnist in the Washington Times even resurrected the old Red Scare, painting Pelosi as a pinko more influenced by Karl Marx rather than James Madison. Give me a break! She’s the ranking minority member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence! Some commie, eh?
So why Ford? Because, as Charles Dickens’ Gradgrind observed, facts are facts. And the fact is that Harold Ford is young and not easily typecast. Ford is also not part of any long-standing clique, cabal or group that lends itself to typecasting. Call him a “Tennessee Democrat,” which, if you remember, is what Al Gore was – and Gore scored 500,000 more votes than George W. in the 2000 presidential election.
Tennessee looks “a lot more like America” than does San Francisco – (first-hand experience here: I spent a few years growing up in Memphis). Young and fresh-faced as he is, Ford possesses the smarts that could only come from being the scion of a long-standing political family in Tennessee – a very rare thing for African-Americans in the South, most of whom have only been enfranchised since the 1960s.
So, while my heart belongs to Nancy, my head says Harold Ford. Liberal Democrats such as myself have to realize that our vision of America – a land of full-employment with real job security, a land where health care is a right and not a privilege, a place where the rich pay their fair share and no one is excluded from a place at the table – is some ways off from realization. And in the classic mode of American politics, persuade, cajole, make your case, then compromise – the big battles may produce only tiny victories, and patience will have to be the order of the day.
So, I still say to my fellow liberals, “Go Left.” But also realize that it may have to be a slow and very wide left turn.
Anyway, don’t all good things take time?