Post Politics: Putting Harold Ford Jr. in his place

Monday, March 15, 2010 at 12:45am
Harold Ford Jr.

In the past two months, I have received more than a few emails, blog comments and phone calls asking why I persisted in covering Harold Ford’s almost-run for Senate in New York on Post Politics. Admittedly, the postings were frequent and, in retrospect, could have been scaled back. But I’d like to address the criticism and try to extract something useful from Ford’s flirtation.

Ford is a Tennessee political name, part of a dynasty. Junior came within three points of becoming the first African-American senator elected in the South since Reconstruction. By running in New York, he was renouncing his political home and pedigree — explicitly. He was adopting a new persona and politics, and he was attempting to run for office in a state he had not ever claimed as home during the very same cycle he was considered a possible candidate for governor right here in Tennnessee. Every aspect of that journey is interesting.

Ford may have gone on television and declared on Hardball, “I am a New Yorker.” He may have changed his voter registration and promised to start paying state taxes in New York, but he still made his bones in Tennessee politics. He claimed this state as home for the first 39 years of his life.

Ford’s attempt to become a New York politician was as much about Tennessee as it was about New York. Every move he made, every statement he parsed, every position he ran away from spoke volumes about not just him, but also about his relationship to this state.

What did it say? For starters, it said the obvious. Tennessee is a far more culturally conservative state than New York. The most important thing to take from the Ford journey from Tennessean to New Yorker, however, is not just the difference in culture between New York and Tennessee, but the difference in culture between the elite class and the rest of the us.

People were constantly trying, during this ill-fated exploration, to determine which Harold Ford was the real one. Was it the confederate-flag-respecting, camouflage-wearing populist conservative from Tennessee or the pragmatic progressive on display in New York?

The truth is that Ford is the same person he always was. Ford was neither New York nor Tennessee. Harold Ford Jr. was a child of a congressman. He went to an elite private school with children of ambassadors, lobbyists and executives. He wasn’t bred to be a Tennessean. He was bred to lead Tennesseans.

Not many people like to talk about it, but there is a class division in America. There are, in fact, two Americas, as the now-disgraced John Edwards put it. But we make a mistake when we think of the difference as purely economical. A certain amount of wealth and income are necessary to be a member of the “elite” class, but money is in many senses incidental to membership.

The two classes in America aren’t divided by money or race; they are divided by place. One America values place, the other doesn’t. America’s overclass is a deracinated nomadic tribe that, if you look closely, more and more Americans are starting to mirror.

The America that Harold Ford Jr. is a part of is about economics. It is about the cheapest, the best and the fastest. It’s about getting the best deal. It is not the location that matters. There is no bond with the patch of ground on which they were raised or on which their ancestors lived. Home for the elite is where the best job, the best college, the best parties, best women or whatever that current “best” that is being sought is. The actual place they find themselves is often incidental and disposable.

The other America is full of people who feel strongly attached to their city, their neighborhood or their state. They are placists. They don’t look for jobs in cool cities; they look for jobs in their city. They view outsiders not with hostility, but with a good, healthy suspicion. They put down strong roots and nurture them, and encourage their children and others to do the same. This is the America that values community, sustainability and, yes, tradition. This America is a shrinking America.

When we look at Harold Ford, we might see a carpetbagger — but we should also see our future. Modern America is a mobile America, and we have started to embrace the nomadic lifestyle of our leaders. Regionalism and parochialism are being replaced by universalism. Things that make each neighborhood, state and region different are slowly eroding.

Yes, Harold Ford betrayed both “his state” and his party by shedding his cultural conservatism and economic populism for that of a socially progressive capitalist, but he did not betray his class. He did what we are all implicitly encouraged to do: Search out “the best” and make it your home.

I prefer those who embrace their home and make it the best.

Kleinheider is's political blogger. Visit him at

20 Comments on this post:

By: SirKnight on 3/15/10 at 5:51

Now that he has alienated us as fellow Tennesseans, I hope you are not suggesting he should 'lead' us by running for another office in this state. NY won't have him. Maybe he should try Washington, Oregon or California!

Though I am sick of the Ford Family and their racial politics of the past, I liked HFJr. ...for a while. He needs to go seek his fortunes in another business or industry. I'm sure he would make a great CEO or CFO somewhere in the real world!

By: wasaw on 3/15/10 at 6:34

I've often found it almost comical how the children of Democrat politicians are handed a silver spoon by the party and encouraged to govern. Reminds me of Al Gore (remember, he's the guy who invented the internet and has created a new career in exploiting the global warming scam). They have the same political self-interest so the same mistakes are made over and over. It really doesn't say a lot about the electorate, does it?

Harold jr. was a member of the most corrupt political family known to Tennesseans. Tennesseans, east of the Tennessee river, saw him for what he is, and handed him his pink slip. His chances of coming back to Tennessee, with his new bride, and running a state wide race is bleak. Can't you just hear him explaining why he left his HOME state to seek office up north. When you stop and really give a lot of thought concerning Harold Jr., what did he really have that Tennesseans needed? He's never held a real job. Like Al Gore, he doesn't have real Tennessee values. Like Al Gore, he wasn't educated here.
They're both two shills hanging out, looking for work. He's an empty suit.

Hey, maybe the Dems will get Harold Jr. nominated for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. He's done as much as Al and Barry did to deserve their million dollar prize.

By: bfra on 3/15/10 at 7:28

wasaw - Your assessment of Jr, is right on
He is so incidential IMO, that had he not made such an issure of his wife's color, I would not have known what color she was. That political ploy went "poof". in his face. Glad NY has him, even if they don't want him, either.

Your claim about Al Gore is so biased, you should be able to offer some proof. He claimed to have promoted the internet, which he did. Where is your proof of his claim of inventing it? Not he says, she says, real proof! Global warming, note the elements over the years.

By: localboy on 3/15/10 at 7:45

"Admittedly, the postings were frequent and, in retrospect, could have been scaled back." You think??

By: 742180 on 3/15/10 at 8:27

Interesting article, your intrepretation of 'class' is probably accurate. Can't say that I've thought about in such a way, probably because I am of the latter group. Very much local, state, and regional in my loyalty. And am quite proud of it.
Your descrption of the guilded class makes me think of how the social experiment of
Busing of students destroyed the local neighborhood. Parents, and students alike no longer had the connection to 'local' enviornment, rather they were grouped in huge buildings with no personality, and other students with whom they had little in commor. The result was a lack of identity to anything, and a huge educational experimental failure. Citizens with no identity and developing little or no loyalty to 'home'. Sad!!!

By: George2 on 3/15/10 at 8:59

bfra -

Thank you for wanting the correct information on AlGore's internet comment. He did not say he "invented it," he said that he "took the initiative in creating the internet." (Sound like the same thing to me.)


By: pswindle on 3/15/10 at 9:43

Thank God that we had someone in Congress that believed in the future and promoted it. VP Gore help pass the initiative in Congress that allowed funding for the internet. Global climate change speaks for itself. It is extreme weather, and we are having extreme weather everywhere. Gore has always helped TN as long as he was in Congsress. Do you know where the best roads in the nation came from? He and his father also believed in the interstate highway system, and he helped get funding for that. He brought home money for the best roads in TN from border to border. I don't blame him, I would tell TN to go to hell. The state deserves the likes of Lamar and Corker. The real test will come when the GOP takes over the governorship. You will see where we will go and how fast we get there.

By: RuthAnnHarnisch on 3/15/10 at 10:05

Ruth Ann Harnisch

I'll let others comment on Harold Ford.
I'll comment on your assumed sexism.
The elite look for where the "best women" are?
Your premise assumes the elite are male or lesbian.
While many elite are men, and many lesbians are among the elite, I assure you that there are many heterosexual females in the class as well.

By: bfra on 3/15/10 at 10:21

George2 - Depends how far you want to stretch what was really said & done. Doesn't sound any thing like "he invented the internet". Didn't see any reference to back up your "thoughts".

By: FreedomJournal on 3/15/10 at 10:37


Class and race are two terms that in many instances have a great degree of similarities. Class; is defined as "a group of persons or things alike in some way." Te get an even better understanding of class we also need to define another extension of the word class.

Class conscious is defined as "conscious of belonging to a particular social class and of being identified with its interest, often with implication of sharp differentiation from or hostility to other classes." Now that we have placed class in an understandable perspective, what is race? Race is defined as "a group of persons connected by common descent or origin." We also need a second definition to fully define the term race. Racism is also a term that needs to be defined.

Racism is defined as "the exaggeration of inherent racial differences and prejudice in favor of certain races." Thus, we will soon see that racial differences do not necessarily alter drastically one's class position. Taking the definitive qualities of class and race one can see the potential distinction and parallels. Regardless of race many people in the world can be grouped together because of class. For our purpose's class is defined along economic lines. There are poor people in the world that are distinctly different in regard to ethnic origins.

But, nonetheless these people have similar interests they go about living in a corrupt environment. Yes, a corrupt environment that seeks to deny many people Black, White, blue or green their constitutional rights. And these people regardless of race have something in common; they belong to the class that bears the bulk of discrimination in the world.

As an independent thinker I have a responsibility to make the proper analysis about situations the total society is confronted with. May writers because of class and race are not able to make the proper analysis when it comes to the realities of class and race. In this analysis one includes the perspective of the poor. In the process a dedicated and responsible writer writes from the vein of Truth.

Even though as a Black writer I write from the Black perspective I am only assigning a group that has had a history of racial discrimination. And in many instances this group has been singled out for class prejudice. But overall, the reality of the times clearly reveals prejudice in 1999 that extends from the rich to the poor regardless of race. Poor White people are looked down on and scorned by rich White people, just like Blacks. Often they are also called derogatory names.

By: George2 on 3/15/10 at 10:59


bfra - As for a reference to back up my thoughts, you can hear it from the horses mouth:

By: RMz on 3/15/10 at 11:05

The Al Gore "invented the internet" thing is a meme spread by Republicans who lack the guts for a debate based on facts.

Gore never claimed to have invented hypertext. What he did claim credit for (rightfully) is saying "This thing Tim Berners-Lee came up with has some potential" and helping to appropriate the funding to bring it to the public.

He was not the only person on The Hill that was approached with it. He was the only one with the foresight to see any potential in it.

He did not claim credit for shooting the goal. He claimed credit for (And deservedly so) an assist.


It's interesting that HFJ came within three points of winning the Senate seat. He probably could have won had he not tossed his base under the bus so many times in pursuit of that seat.

And I don't mean the floor votes. They were bad enough. I mean his habit of going on Fox News to completely undermine all Democratic positions after every one of those votes. He was Lieberman writ small.

Had he shown some leadership, he could have held his base and built more.

That is the great tragedy of his tenure in Congress.

By: GUARDIAN on 3/15/10 at 11:24

Ford a Tennessee political dynasty? LMAO If you can call a cancer that only Memphis would be dumb enough to vote for a dynasty "HAHA" go for it. A.C. little Harold couldn't get elected riding the obuma wave against one of the weakest republicans to ever run for senator in the state of Tennessee. Just admit it A.C. you have a crush on little Harold and want to keep his memory alive in Tennessee. Well Harold has moved on, burnt his bridges and found a new home. If you want to write about him move to New York , get a job there at a progressive rag and write all you want about little Harold. :)

By: bfra on 3/15/10 at 12:19

george2 - You need to watch your video again and take a lesson in comprehension first. You might gain some insight on what is said.

By: AmyLiorate on 3/15/10 at 12:28

AC Klienheider is coining a term here "placists".

He can call people with firm roots what ever he chooses, however I will suggest the more traditional term - "stake holder".

You see it is true that many people feel free to roam about the country, and that is a great right that we have and may do so at our own will, but when you do that politically then you surely must risk not getting as many votes as a local candidate would.

If a non-placist wins election then fouls up the city/county/whatever then they will just move on to a more appealing place leaving the lifelong citizens holding the bag.

By: George2 on 3/15/10 at 2:41



There seems to be only one way to take the comments. As God created the world, Gore created the internet. What is so hard to understand unless you don't want to understand? There can be no other spin!

By: MetalMan on 3/15/10 at 3:54

In the words of Mortimer Duke, "Hmmm...goodbye Harold" Now go quietly into the night like a good boy.

By: bfra on 3/15/10 at 4:27

George if you find a place where they give lessons in comprehension, SIGN UP!

By: AndyW on 3/16/10 at 1:12

Interesting analysis.

But America has a long history of nomadism that isn't confined to elites...geographic and social mobility are part of the character of the country - you know, Westward expansion and the black migration north (because sometimes you can't find a job in your city) and the hopes and dreams of people who move to LA or, even, Nashville to pursue their while I think your analysis is getting at something, it didn't quite work all the way for me, even though I think your take of Ford's motivations and why the story is so interesting is spot on.

By: HokeyPokey on 3/16/10 at 5:23

Interesting read on the situation, K.

But there are others of us who are not placists, nor do we think of ourselves as entitled or leaders.

We are the ones who never seemed to have a permanent home growing up. For varying reasons, we moved often, changed schools and living conditions often. Many of us moved around the world and back. Many of us simply moved around the United States. Some of us did both.

We don't have childhood friends, high school buddies or even college classmates around us. Some of us, even when the situation that kept us moving lost its power over us, continued to move around, never staying in one place more than a few years.

That was me for 40 years of my life. As it happens, I now call Nashville home, and have done so for 26 years. Still I don't feel like I'm of Nashville. I still don't have friends from the first 40 years around me, if it weren't for Facebook I'd never hear from most of them at all.

But I think I have gained something from this, although many folks have taken this quality many different ways: I have met so many people, and seen so many places and things, that I accept pert near everyone and every way of life, usually without comment or criticism.

I think that's something that most 'placists' will never be able to do.