Harold Ford Jr. has written a memoir, More Davids than Goliaths, in which he tries to erase his well-earned public image as an opportunistic brat.
In the process, he tosses aside no-longer-needed Tennessee Democratic icons Phil Bredesen and Ned McWherter like used tissues and peddles various preposterous theories to explain his political failures. He even dons his tinfoil cap to suggest unidentified federal and state law officers conspired to torpedo his '06 U.S. Senate campaign.
Ford is a congressman's privileged child who has parlayed his family name and connections into political celebrity. Not that you'd learn that from his book. On the page, he casts himself as a humble lad who bootstrapped himself to greatness, overcoming bigots and assholes (i.e., everyone else).
In a couple of unintentionally hilarious pot-meet-kettle passages, Ford disses Steve Cohen, the Memphis Democrat who succeeded him in Congress, as "not a bad guy but he thinks very highly of himself — sometimes too high," while Ford's victorious '06 opponent, Bob Corker, is "very proud of himself," not to mention "wealthy and arrogant."
Some more things you will learn if you make the mistake of reading this book:
• Ford's family ran one of America's most effective, massive get-out-the-vote machines. Boy, how the whiskey and cash did flow! Oh, wait, that's not in this book. Instead, Ford insists that for all his family power and his father's 11 terms in Congress, he began his political career as an underdog "with little money and little credibility." Up from prosperity!
• Once he miraculously managed to win Harold Sr.'s congressional seat, he wrote his little fingers to the bone scribbling between 50 and 75 notes to his constituents every single day. Really, he's a hard-working guy!
• His political views — which tend to, ahem, let's say "evolve" depending on his state of residence — are actually steadfast and true, "not the result of raw political ambition." So when that proud Blue Dog Democrat of bygone days voted in Congress to restrict abortion rights or to outlaw gay marriage — that had nothing to do with any raw political ambition, say, to win that '06 Senate campaign.
You'll recall that this year Ford brought on media ridicule when he contemplated trying to unseat New York's Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. While that didn't work out, much of his book is obviously — too obviously — paving the way for him to run for something in his new home state.
Ford must think it's appealing to New York liberal guilt for a black Southerner to play the victim card. The truth is, the Ford family's Memphis machine was so pivotal that Ford could have claimed his party's nomination for every election for the next millennium without a whisper from the establishment. But according to Ford, the state's backward party leaders — including Bredesen — tried to stop him from running for the Senate.
"A lot of their worry, though by no means all of it, had to do with race," Ford writes.
Then, less than 24 hours after Ford announced his Senate candidacy, guess what? His uncle, state Sen. John Ford, was arrested for taking bribes in the Tennessee Waltz corruption scandal. Harold writes he's "no conspiracy theory guy" but he finds the timing of his uncle's arrest "very curious." When would have been more helpful?
Even though 2006 was a smashing year for Democrats nationally, Ford claims the deck was stacked against his campaign. Still, he contends he was doing so well that it took an all-out racist assault by Republicans to hold him back.
Ford writes that in travels throughout northeast Tennessee, Sen. Lamar Alexander repeatedly said: "We don't need a Memphis congressman representing us in the U.S. Senate" — meaning a black congressman, of course. (At the time, the Ford campaign complained loudly to the media about this, but reporters couldn't confirm Alexander ever said it.)
And then there was the infamous "Call Me" advertisement that caused a national uproar. Ford wanted to combat it with a commercial of his own in which Bredesen and McWherter sat on stools with him in a barn and sang his praises.
There was only one problem. McWherter wouldn't do the ad. Ford offers no reason for what he clearly sees as a crucial snub. Inadvertently, he's given all of Tennessee one more reason to admire McWherter.
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