“Success has always been easy to measure. It is the distance between one’s origins and one’s final achievement.”—Michael Korda
The editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster was onto something when he said that. It makes us think of Congressman Harold Ford Jr., a smart young man whose Democratic U.S. Senate candidacy is generating all the excitement of a prostate awareness fair. Even some prominent Democratic tongue-waggers say privately that Ford seems like a decent enough guy, but that he’s done nothing to inspire confidence. And that’s an issue separate and apart from the fact that the policy differences between Ford and GOP opponent Bob Corker, who has unnecessarily whored himself out to social conservatives, are frighteningly few.
Let’s start with experience. We’ll give Jr. this: he knows Washington, D.C., as well as anyone. Hell, he makes Al Gore look positively homegrown. This is a guy who grew up going to an elite school in D.C.—St. Albans School for Boys—while his father was in Congress. (Stray fact: day tuition this year at St. Albans is over $26,000 a year, and over $37,000 for boarders.) After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he went on to law school at the University of Michigan. So far so good. The preppie kid of a congressman—nothing wrong with that. But when his dad of the same name retired from Congress in 1996, which coincided with Ford Jr.’s graduation from law school, the son was quite literally handed a congressional seat, and the dynasty lived on. He’d had no notable life experience to that point—and most of us don’t at that age.
But Ford has been in Congress ever since. It’s been his career. To put it plainly, he’s never had real employment. Imagine never having gone to a job interview, never shopped health insurance, never floated a check on a crappy salary to cover rent, never negotiated a pay raise or dealt with a prickly boss. It’s a significant void, never having existed outside of the political realm. For a 36-year-old candidate who’s going to rock clubs and appealing to “people our age” for “change” and “progress,” it’s a pretty big deal. First of all, he’s not the club crowd’s age, and he has nothing in common with them. Second, Ford Jr. doesn’t represent change; he simply wants to hop from the lower chamber to the upper one.
He’s had the last decade to weigh in on balanced budgets, foreign affairs, oil dependence, the war, the potential of Tennessee soybeans as an alternative fuel source and gas prices. (On the latter issue, his political commercial shot from a giant black van or SUV or otherwise monstrous automobile was a laughably poor choice.)
All of that is Problem No. 1.
Problem No. 2 is that the distinctions between Ford and his opponent aren’t substantial enough to mitigate problem No. 1. Ford, like Corker, is to the right of President Bush on immigration reform—no amnesty, send them home and, while we’re at it, let’s punish church groups who help illegals. At times, he sounds like Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. “I’m opposed to gay marriage.... I believe the Ten Commandments should be displayed and I’m not opposed to abstinence programs,” Ford said recently.
Unlike Corker, though, who apparently would rather take embryonic stem cells to the trash heap rather than use them for health care advances, Ford supports expanding federal funding for life-saving stem cell research, as do a majority of American voters. We suggest the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, not to mention the Ford campaign, seize on this one gratifying Ford position for everything it’s worth.
In the meantime, this race is shaping up to be a showdown between two disappointing candidates: Corker, who was so busy running to the right in the primary that now he probably couldn’t find the center with Chris Matthews and a compass; and Ford, who’s not yet ready for prime time and offers little real alternative.
On a positive note, the new fall TV season begins soon.