Thursday, October 26, 2006

Why Even Progressives Should Like Harold Ford Jr.

"What's wrong, Dad?" asked my perceptive nine-year-old son, when I walked in to pick him up from his Cub Scout meeting last week. "Oh, there's just some guy in Tennessee making me a little angry tonight," I told him, knowing that there was no mistaking the mad-enough-to-chew-nails look I had on my face.

I had just found out via Blackberry that Harold Ford Jr., the Democrat running to take the Tennessee Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Bill Frist, had come out as endorsing Joe Lieberman over Democratic Senate nominee Ned Lamont in Connecticut.

I took my son out for ice cream which made me feel better -- for a few minutes, at least.

It was much the same feeling I had when Ford voted for the morally-bankrupt GOP bankruptcy bill in 2005 and as angry as I was when I found out he was one of the House Democrats to sign on with George W. Bush's Military Commissions (torture) bill last month. Ford is a member of the House Blue Dog Coalition -- a dog I once said should be put to sleep -- and, even if he is a Democrat trying to remain viable in a deep-red state, I've always wished he would be more like Al Gore and less like Bill Frist.

But, despite these misgivings, I just can’t help but like the guy.

Notwithstanding some of the stances he's taken that should make me feel about him the same way I feel about certain DINOs (Democrat in Name Only) like Joe Lieberman (I-CT) or Ben Nelson (D-NE), I've gotten to the bottom of why I like this guy: Harold Ford Jr. has got balls.

At a time when we Progressive writers and activists scream on a daily basis about the latest Democratic candidate needing a backbone transplant and a greater will to truly fight back against the slime merchants in the Republican party, Ford seldom needs to be told when to stand up and get loud.

After all, in a House chamber full of Democrats, it was Ford in November 2005 who got incredibly vocal and seriously in some Republican faces when Ohio Congresswoman Jean Schmidt implied that Democrat John Murtha was a "coward" in response to Murtha's bill calling for a redeployment of American forces in Iraq.

Other Democrats did indeed object, but it was Ford who, according to those who were there, had to be physically restrained as he went after House Republicans on Murtha's behalf, yelling "say Murtha's name!" as he called them on their slander and on the bogus legislation they had brought to the floor to replace the Democratic bill.

While I seriously doubt that Ford's literal journey across the aisle would have ended with him smacking a Republican around, I like the indignation, spirit and fire that made him do it.

I like it a whole bunch.

In addition to running a stellar campaign for Frist's Tennessee Senate seat, Ford pulled a move last Friday that was reminiscent of the time, in the early 60s, that a brash, young Cassius Clay -- not yet Muhammad Ali -- crashed ferocious Sonny Liston's training camp to taunt and ridicule him. A decidedly uninvited guest, Ford rolled his well-labeled campaign bus into a Memphis parking lot on Friday just as rival Bob Corker, the Republican Senate candidate, was about to begin a media event. Ford had gone there to confront Corker face-to-face about his opponent's ongoing, typically-Republican smears against the Democrat's family.

"Tell me what do you think about this Iraq thing?" Ford asked. "I know you're here to talk about my family."

"As a matter of fact, this is my press conference not yours, okay?" Corker snapped at Ford.

After Corker walked away, a cool and calm Ford addressed the press throng and dismissed charges that his confrontational style was a breach of campaign etiquette or desperation.

"He wants to come and attack my family and attack me. We can’t have a debate on the serious issues that are confronting the country,” said Ford. "Every poll in the country shows us running ahead, every poll in the state demonstrates that. Why does he think my family is just wide open for him to lie about, and distort the record of and tell stories about?"

Here's the CNN piece on that in-your-face Ford performance:

But Corker should be accustomed to this by now as he's had a few debates where he has been outclassed by the whip-smart, charismatic Ford. The five-term Tennessee Congressman has bested Corker on all issues and smacked him considerably in the October 10 debate when Corker went after his family again.

Take a look at that video clip.

Here's the thing: I would love to be able to mold centrists like Ford into my ideal of a Progressive legislator, but that's not going to happen. Absent that, I will take Ford as he is and appreciate the energy he brings to our side of the aisle, because it is that toughness and fight that we seem to have the hardest time finding these days.

In too many ways, civility has become good camouflage for ongoing acts of utter political cowardice -- and Harold Ford Jr. is no coward.

* * * * *

Massive Update: I just received word from a blogging colleague that Ford has weighed in on the New Jersey Gay Marriage ruling yesterday with this quote:
"I do not support the decision today reached by the New Jersey Supreme Court regarding gay marriage. I oppose gay marriage, and have voted twice in Congress to amend the United States Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. This November there's a referendum on the Tennessee ballot to ban same-sex marriage - I am voting for it."
More at Daily Kos.

Shame on Harold Ford Jr. for this.

I debated greatly whether or not I should pull this post because, if Ford is unwilling to stand up for the basic rights of so many of our people -- who happen to be gay -- it throws a big wrench into my central thesis of how courageous he is.

But the extent to which we should look for cookie-cutter Democrats, versus allowing for significant philosophical disagreements within our party is relevant and, for that reason alone, I will let the original post stand.