Let me say up front that I don't really care if Harold Ford runs for the Senate in New York. I don't
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think there's anything wrong with primarying incumbents. I do find it funny that a man who had great help moving Rosalind Kurita out of his way is now outraged to discover that people (some of the same people) are trying to move him out of someone else's way. Quel surprise! And there's gambling at Rick's. And Luke is Vader's son. And water is wet. And broken hearts suck. Etc., etc., etc.
No, the reason I think progressive bloggers (myself included) are kind of dumbfounded and outraged by the Ford campaign is that he has become a regular Democrat seemingly overnight. Positions he used to hold, he now doesn't. Things he used to be for (like guns), he's now against. It's as if he's a whole new person. As Sean Braisted
puts it, "I guess from now on, if and when I write about Harold Ford Jr., I'll have to use a code to differentiate between the Harold Ford Jr. we had as a candidate in Tennessee (HFJ06), and the Harold Ford Jr. who is mulling a run for Senate in New York (HFJ10)."
Even this would be more funny than troubling, if not for the implications his conversion has for the way Democrats view the Tennessee political landscape.
It's one thing when you see it at a national level--Josh Marshall
, for instance, calling Tennessee "a really conservative state" where Ford's strategy of "pressing the outer edges of Democratic orthodoxies to gain crossover votes among Southern white Democrats and moderate Republicans" made sense. After all, most of these folks get their ideas about Tennessee from watching biopics about country musicians and reading the yearly "Oh my god, we went to Nashville and it was actually fun" article in The New York Times
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But this attitude of having to run on "God, guns, and gays" seems to be conventional wisdom among Tennessee Democrats as well. Never mind that it's not working. Since adopting wholesale this strategy of letting Republicans bait them into only discussing how pro-God we are while stroking our guns, we've lost races. Important races.
We lost Ford's race. Certainly the "Call Me" crap didn't help--but let's not kid ourselves into thinking that a bunch of people who were gung-ho about Ford saw that ad and were suddenly, "Oh, wait! He's black? Never mind."
We lost Ty Cobb the Lesser's race after overestimating the importance of the Tennessee Right to Life endorsement--which Mike Turner admitted last week over lunch.
Here's the thing. I don't think any progressive in Tennessee is arguing that Tennessee is some hidden liberal paradise. But I would guess, after watching the Republicans co-opt issues like education and infant mortality, that many of our core concerns are the same core concerns our neighbors have.
I can't begin to tell you how many times I have heard progressive bloggers say, "Stop letting Republicans set our agenda. We know what's important to us and what our state needs--jobs and education. Those should be our two biggest priorities. And yet all a Republican has to do is call the 'God, guns, gays' tune and we dance. Let's talk about our issues instead of rushing out to reassure folks that we are on the 'right' side of the agenda the Republicans set for us."
And, as GoldnI points out
, even as we're arguing that such a strategy doesn't always work here in Tennessee--even as Ford should know that, since it didn't work for him--Ford is still, in essence, saying:
that to get elected in Tennessee, it wasn't enough that he merely be anti-gay rights, anti-choice, and pro-gun; he also had to emphasize those facts over any of the bread-and-butter issues anytime there was a TV camera or microphone present.
It does Democrats back here in Tennessee a huge disservice. There are good Democrats in this state, urban or rural, progressive or not, who are trying to put the focus back where it belongs--on jobs, on healthcare, on education. But Ford, still arguably one of the highest profile Democrats in the state until he changes his driver's license, continues to perpetuate the notion that none of that matters as much as finding a Confederate flag and a camo hat to pose for the cameras with.
. over in the comments at Tiny Cat Pants sums it up:
I did read genuine frustration that, time and time again, some of our own worry more about how they can get theirs than how to get things done. By turning around and suddenly adopting the ideals of the same progressive, energized base that worked for him here, after the tactics of the 2006 race (not to mention his voting record), Harold has demonstrated he's more concerned with getting his, all while doing those of us here a disservice with that backhanded, unspoken, "I couldn't be a real Democrat in Tennessee" move. (Again, I say, tell that to his successor in Congress.)
Are we not supposed to recognize that sort of thing and call it out when it happens? Because the longer the myth that only Democrats in Republican clothing can get elected here is perpetuated, the more Republicans will be elected. After all, why vote for one of us pretending to be one when you can have the real thing?