Post Politics: The political nihilism of Harold Ford Jr.

Sunday, January 24, 2010 at 11:45pm
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Harold Ford Jr. dons the camo in 2006

“I want to personally thank the many across our state and country who urged me to run for governor. There will be another race and time to ask for your support.”

Those were the words of Harold Ford Jr. bowing out of the race for Tennessee governor just 10 months ago — nearly two years after he now claims he moved to New York to live with his new wife.

Yes, despite holding a Tennessee drivers license and being on the voter rolls in Shelby County until two weeks ago, Harold is a New Yorker now and boasts an issues portfolio entirely consistent with the progressive electorate of that state.

Of course — as countless pundits, prognosticators and politicos have noted — his portfolio didn’t always look so cosmopolitan. In fact, when his interest in the New York Senate seat first became public, I immediately thought Ford, while a lifelong Democrat, might have to think about eschewing the closed primary and make an independent run for the seat. After all, a dramatic switch from good ole boy Tennessee Southern Democrat to New York liberal in three short years just wasn’t plausible.

But Ford is far more brazen than anyone imagined. Junior has not merely adapted to New York; he has not just shifted and shaded his political persona. Ford has done a clear, abrupt and unabashed about-face. He has turned his back on just about everything he stood for in 2006, when he ran for Senate against Bob Corker.

Amazingly, he’s not even asking New Yorkers to accept and understand a dramatic transformation storyline. Instead, he’s denying any significant alteration of his politics. Ford asserts that he has not suddenly become pro-gun-control, gay-friendly, pro-choice, and pro-immigrant. He maintains that he always has been. Ford and his new New York spokesman bristle at the insinuation that Ford’s record is not completely consistent with his new progressive electorate.

Ford is by no means the first politician to try and sneak one by the voters, but he may very well be the first to attempt a transformation of this magnitude in the age of YouTube. There aren’t just dry records of his anti-gay marriage votes in the Congressional Record and bland newspaper accounts of his right-wing 2006 campaign in Lexis/Nexis — there’s video. A lot of it.

On gay marriage, one of the few areas Ford concedes even the slightest evolution, his conversion story is that despite being against “gay marriage” (rhetorically speaking), he has supported civil unions from the moment he entered Congress in 1997. When asked for evidence of this assertion, spokesman Davidson Goldin said it was “undisputed.”

Asked again for evidence Post Politics could use to confirm the claim, Goldin provided none. No vote in the Congress. No clips from old news reports.

I covered Junior’s campaign for U.S. Senate against Bob Corker. In 2006, Ford wanted desperately to leave voters with the impression he abhorred gay marriage and thought it offensive to his faith. He wanted voters to believe that his few votes to restrict abortion amounted to a pro-life record. He wanted voters to believe he had no intention of making any moves against the NRA on firearms legislation. And, more than anything, he tried to get to the political right of his opponent with a fierce advocacy of clamping down on “illegals.”

We like to believe — underneath all the strategy, posturing and maneuvering — politics really is about something. It may look dirty, but we want to believe everyone has some sort of policy goal, some set of core beliefs for which they fight. But for more politicians than not, politics isn’t about anything but politics. Public service is not a calling, and there is no moral center; it’s just a job. It’s what they do. And Ford is pretty damn good at what he does.

In 2006, Ford lost in a Republican state where his race and family name were a severe handicap. He convinced more than a few Reagan Democrats — and probably a few Reagan Republicans — that he, a Memphis Ford, was on their side.

He didn’t do it because he believed any of what he was saying. That much is clear now. And he didn’t do it for the greater purpose of serving progressive ideals. He did it to win a race. He needed poor and middle class redneck whites to vote for him, so he donned a camouflage hat and stood in front of a Confederate flag. In New York, he needs to rally the black vote, hold onto Wall Street and mollify white progressives. And one way or another he’ll do that, too.

Ford’s nihilistic attitude toward politics may be an extreme example of the typical officeholder, but he is not unique. Ford just happens to gamble bigger and play the game at a higher level than most.

Editor's note: After publication of this column, it was pointed out that in 2004 Ford Jr. told the Nashville Scene's Roger Abramson that he was against gay marriage but "might consider allowances for 'something else.'"

Kleinheider is's political blogger. Visit him at

18 Comments on this post:

By: MattCollins on 1/25/10 at 12:45

Are you trying to say, in short, that he's an unprincipled whore?

Maybe the guy should give it up? And this is after all the same State that put Hillary into the Senate so it might not be so far fetched that they would put another carpetbagger there too. They deserve what they get, it's just a shame that he gets the power to vote for the rest of us.

By: shucks on 1/25/10 at 7:37

Sounds like politicians are a lot like political pundits.

By: Loner on 1/25/10 at 7:44

Kleinheider analyzes and then offers advice. "He (Ford Junior) needed poor and middle class redneck whites to vote for him, so he donned a camouflage hat and stood in front of a Confederate flag. In New York, he needs to rally the black vote, hold onto Wall Street and mollify white progressives."

White progressives in NY need to be "mollified"? I disagree, they are soft enough, right now. The black vote in New York is far less important than the Jewish vote.
I don't think Junior has established any "hold" over Wall Street; he simply works there.

A vote-seeking black American posing in front of a Confederate flag is analogous to a Jewish politician posing in front of the swastika. It's beyond despicable. That photo alone may be enough to put the kibosh to Junior's New York ambitions. New York state lost tens of thousands of its sons in the war between the states; in the Empire State, a black man showing respect to that infamous flag projects an image of supreme ingratiitude, if not absurdity.

Davidson Goldin is very intelligent, he knows that I am right on these vital points, it could be that Davidson is simply exploiting Ford's legendary vanity and boundless personal ambition. The carpetbagging scammer is being scammed by a local scamster....that's the New York flim-flam, baby!

By: Loner on 1/25/10 at 8:45

Suggestion to Mr. Goldin and his client, Mr. Ford: Remove the cammo hat, replace red-neck hat with a yarmulke (kippah), assume same thumbs up pose, but remove the Confederate flag (Stars & Bars) and substitute the Israeli flag (Star of David) in background.
Now that's the kind of publicity photos that Junior Ford needs to circulate in Israel and in New York.
That's free and honest advice, Mr. Ford, ignore it at your own political peril.

By: localboy on 1/25/10 at 8:51

Darn, missed my Ford update on Saturday...wondered why the day seemed so drab...

By: fishfry on 1/25/10 at 9:20

The slippery eel! From a 'good ole boy' to a New Yorker - I don't think so!

By: pswindle on 1/25/10 at 9:37

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done a wonderful job as senator and Secretary, and Harold I wish you the best. When TN chose Corker over you, TN deserves what it gets.

By: frank brown on 1/25/10 at 9:55

Because of a major business I was involved in I kept a town home in Memphis for many years. My neighbors were Harold Ford and his family. They were good neighbors but probably as absentee as I was from the city.

Harold Ford Jr. was always a polite and intelligent young fellow. He spent almost 85% of his youth in Washington. His political views are must more consistent with the New York mentality and I think he has made a good move for himself. He also has made a good move for Tennessee.

If 1861 seems to be a time of great division in this country wait until the historians evaluate the period we are in now.

By: DustyU on 1/25/10 at 9:59

I hope he wins - TN will have gotten rid of the windbag.
Like Will Rogers once said:
I suppose congress should get that payraise they're wanting. The only problem with that is then every young man's gonna want to run for public office and we all know that once they've fed at the public trough they ain't fit for any honest work.

By: ddeere on 1/25/10 at 11:59

Sure, Ford has a voting record, all the U-Tube's; etc., but that one photo above in NYC is the equivalent to Gary Hart with Donna Rice in his lap in front of the boat named "Monkey Business!"

While NY Democrats, especially the Primary voters, are often BLIND Zealots and willing to vote for anything; i.e. NY version of Yellow Dogs, NYC people are all BS'er, comes with the turf, and as such they can recognize BS a mile away.

Harold "thinks" he can "pull one over" like with rural Tennessee Yellow Dogs......he will find out otherwise.

At least he has, unequivocally, destroyed ANY future in Tennessee politics so the Ford "dynasty' is finally gone even if not all of them are "YET" in jail!

By: bfra on 1/26/10 at 3:49

If he was a child, play-acting, the attire and back drop would be ok. For a grown man, "supposedly" intelligent, running for a should be very responsible office, this picture is a joke! IMO, he is insulting New Yorkers.

By: bfra on 1/26/10 at 6:59

Possibility: Jr hired Bush's photo-op clowns!

By: Dragon on 1/26/10 at 9:15

That picture was taken in 2006, when he was trying to get the Tennessee redneck vote. Expect him to start sporting a yamaka to get the NYC vote.

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