Ford, Jr. put on a spectacle last week for the sake of his own,
outsized Senatorial ambitions and to further ingratiate himself
to the right wing of the Democratic Party, the same people who have
engineered the erosion of progressive politics in the U.S. since
the mid-Eighties with their "new" and politically bankrupt,
warmed-over Republican "ideas." Although Ford's lopsided
loss for House Democratic Leader showed that he was never a serious
challenger to Nancy Pelosi (CA), who garnered 85% of the vote, the
32 year-old demonstrated that he is a danger to Black political
cohesion and a nasty personality, as well.
Pelosi will be a better leader for my candidacy," said the
graceless grandstander, adding, "I'm a better person as a result
of it." Like almost every statement Harold Ford utters, his
after-vote remarks were totally devoid of substance.
chunk of Ford's 29 votes came from his fellow Blue Dogs - southern-based
conservative Democrats noteworthy for their similarity to Republicans.
However, Ford couldn't even rouse the enthusiasm of a majority of
these two and a half dozen good old boys, and the bulk of his corporate-oriented
colleagues in the 74-member Democratic Leadership Council faction
also took their votes elsewhere. Ford sits on the executive board
of the DLC, and apparently took the honorific seriously, initially
announcing that he had 63 endorsements in the bag.
claim also included nine members of the Congressional Black Caucus,
which would represent about one-quarter of the CBC's strength. At
the last minute, Ford's planned appearance with CBC membership was
cancelled, and the final full Democratic Caucus vote was secret.
However, it is the Black Caucus and Black political interests in
general that were most damaged by Ford's publicity-seeking antics.
short, sad sideshow
the tally ultimately demonstrated, Harold Ford's only value to his
rightwing friends is to feed the illusion of grave political divisions
within Black America. His anemic and insincere leadership gambit
- he does not really want to lead House Democrats, but to leave
the chamber for the Senate - generated more newsprint than Connecticut
liberal Rosa DeLauro's bid to become party caucus chair, the number
two elected slot. DeLauro lost out to Rep. Robert Menendez (NJ)
by just one vote, the only cliff-hanger of the party reorganization.
captured excessive media attention because he is useful to those
who paint pictures of an emerging Black conservative political class.
What he really represents is a new class of opportunists who have
tapped into historical African American yearnings to see members
of the group in high places, no matter how illusory their "power"
or how faithless their service to Black interests. In this sense,
Rep. Ford is an exploiter.
was no surprise to find Georgia Rep. Denise Majette in front of
TV cameras among the clutch of congresspersons seconding Ford's
nomination. The press conference was Majette's first major act since
defeating Cynthia McKinney with less than 20% of the Black vote,
in August - inflicting the Black Caucus with its most non
-representative member. But St. Louis Congressman William "Lacy"
Clay is another, far more disturbing matter. Clay is a member
of the Congressional Progressive Caucus as well as the CBC, son
of William Clay, Sr., a brilliant and principled Black Caucus founder
who served for 32 years in the House. At 36, "Lacy" Clay
is part of Ford's age cohort, but chronology is not principle. Although
Ford's ill-fated sprint toward leadership is characterized in some
circles as a "protest" against the perceived smothering
of youthful legislative aspirations, it is difficult to imagine
how such grievances trump Ford's vote for Bush's War and his numerous
entanglements with congressional foes of the CBC and PCC. Apparently,
"Lacy" Clay thinks so.
the defeat, Ford reported that his father, the House veteran to
whom Harold owes his name and his seat, called to say that he was
proud of his son. Along with the Hooks family, which spawned former
NAACP Executive Director Rev. Benjamin Hooks, the Fords have long
been associated with leadership in Black Memphis. Young Harold is
not a Trojan Horse, like Denise Majette. He was not lifted from
obscurity as a stealth candidate of the rich, white Right, to be
hurled as a weapon against established Black leadership. Rather,
Ford lays claim to a long legacy - and trashes it, for his own ambitions.
People Magazine's choice of Ford as one of the "50 Most Beautiful
People in the World" notwithstanding, his activities are ugly
is not the critics of Ford, but his apologists, who fuel division
in Black ranks and play into the hands of those who would dismiss
African Americans as a splintered and irrelevant political force.
Ford's attempts at upward mobility and high visibility are based
on outrageous, cynical publicity ploys designed to set him apart
from the mainstreams of Black political thought in the eyes of
the media. This is the context in which Ford's role in last
week's House Democratic reorganization should be understood.
good man standing
Carolina Congressman James Clyburn rose to vice chairman of the
Democratic Caucus on the strength of progressive ascendance. Clyburn
beat out two DLC candidates, one of them Black Queens, NY Representative
third Black on the DLC is Juanita Millender-McDonald. Georgia Rep.
Sanford Bishop is
Harold Ford's Black companion in the Blue Dog Democrats. At the
time of this writing, BC was unaware of affiliations of new members
Denise Majette and Alabama's Artur Davis, who rode a wave of Right
financing to replace Rep. Earl Hilliard. Both McKinney and Hilliard
were members of the Progressive Caucus.)
was gracious in defeat, having decided not to force a runoff with
Clyburn, a former chairman of the CBC. "I decided to step aside
so we could come together as a party," Meeks said. "There's
a time to battle and a time to move on. Jim's a good man."
he is. In a state awash in truly wild Confederates, Clyburn has
held his 53% Black district with principled dignity while maintaining
a close, working relationship with the state's other House Democrat,
John Spratt, who was elevated to Assistant to Leader Pelosi. Spratt
is moderate by national party standards, liberal for a white congressman
from South Carolina. More importantly, he is neither a Blue Dog
nor a DLCer - the organized forces of compromise with the GOP. Neither
is the new minority whip, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer.
victory is significant not merely because of her membership in the
Progressive Congressional Caucus, where more than half of Black
members hang their ideological hats, but because the reorganization
amounted to a purge of the DLC, none of whose current members remain
in House leadership. The ease of the Left's takeover may be deceptive,
however, signaling only that the DLC is still in shock over the
November 5 defeat - a repudiation of Democrats with no identity.
Its members will continue to work deals with the White House from
the outside, all the while blaming Blacks and liberals for being
out of step with "the people." Harold Ford will doubtless
be loudly among them, admiring his newly higher profile in the mirror
members of the U.S. Senate have also been meeting to figure out
how to act like Democrats for a change. They, too, will have to
contend with the DLC, which is anxious to "mend fences"
with the White House by moving even further to the right.
this juncture in history, with war looming, civil liberties slipping
away and economic collapse thinkable, it is vital that we examine
how Blacks and progressives got into such a sad state. 1980 was
a critical year. President Jimmy Carter sought re-nomination, having
thoroughly betrayed Blacks and labor during four years of non-stop
regression. (Public television has been re-broadcasting an examination
of the Carter years, bringing back the full flavor of the Peanut
Man's destructive powers.) Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy attempted
to organize a revolt.
now, Blacks were the core of Democratic dissatisfaction with Carter.
Absent the strongest Black support for the insurgency, Kennedy's
challenge to a second Carter term was untenable. African American
officeholders caved, unable to contemplate the thought of breaking
with a sitting Democratic President, even one who had ceased pretending
to be a progressive. Kennedy had no choice but to disassemble his
candidacy. The ties that bound the progressive coalition unraveled.
On his own record, Carter lost by a landslide, ushering in 12 years
the aftermath of the Kennedy collapse, BC co-publisher Glen Ford,
then a political columnist for Encore magazine, wrote:
did it happen? How did the most bumbling President in modern times
manage to betray every element in his 1976 constituency, all the
while committing the most public and embarrassing blunders, and
retain his party's support? And what role did so-called Black
leadership play in this shameful chain of events? Undoubtedly,
historians will be examining the progressive defeat of 1980 for
decades to come - and make no mistake about it, there is nothing
but defeat for Blacks, working people, and the poor in the coming
contest between the two conservatives, Carter and Reagan. We have
been left with a choice between proven evils."
has, in hindsight, been drowned out by the revisionist voices of
the corporate media, who choose not to remember anything. For the
Democratic Party, 1980 was much like 2002.
Carter had opened the door for Reagan, laying the groundwork for
his own defeat, and for the neo-liberal policies of the Democratic
Leadership Council that emerged in the mid-Eighties, under New Jacks
Bill Clinton, of Arkansas, and Tennessee's Al Gore. The DLC formula
was simple, a Southern Strategy from the very beginning. Blacks
had nowhere to go, it was reasoned, and could to be taken for granted
as a 25 - 30% Democratic base vote in the South. To retain the Party's
remaining southern offices against the Republican White Man's Party,
Democrats needed to tailor their messages to minorities of
white voters to bring the election day total to 50% plus one. The
DLC was formed as a southern, white minority faction of the national
party, a close cousin to the GOP.
DLC's voice soon became national - southern political voices tend
to reverberate in the U.S. Significant numbers of urban white Democrats
found themselves doing math in the same, faulty fashion as the DLC's
southern founders. The two parties merged and blurred under the
inexorable logic, leading inevitably to Carter-like defeat.
process does not work in reverse. DLC Blacks such as Harold Ford
cannot empower the Black minority of the voting public, which has
permanent interests in a progressive agenda. They can only disrupt
and confuse African Americans and their allies, and create the conditions
that will weaken the Black vote, through splintering and
disappointment-induced apathy. That is the danger of Harold Ford,
the opportunist, and Denise Majette, the Trojan Horse.
win without a try
House Leader Nancy Pelosi promises to "stand our ground"
in principled battle with the White House and its allies, when common
ground cannot be found. We shall see. George Bush has left little
if any common ground worth compromising about. Why not fight?
the Congressional Black Caucus and other Black officeholders listened
to the sound of their own repeated analysis and joined -
no, led - Kennedy's rebellion in 1980, Reagan might well
have won, anyway. The media would, of course, have blamed the defeat
on Blacks and what were then called "McGovernites." So
what? The pundits went ahead and lumped Jimmy Carter in with Blacks
and McGovernites, anyway, proclaiming the whole bunch equally ineffectual,
marginal, politically dead. Last week, the corporate media rendered
the same verdict against Pelosi and her team, before they even took
must listen to our own voices, for a change. That includes Rev.
Jesse Jackson, who usually talks right even when he does wrong.
"We cannot wait for Ms. Pelosi or whoever," said Jackson.
"We have to lead the march. Every major break has been when
we were tough-minded enough."
are the heart and soul of social democracy in America. We are the
indispensable force for change. If Pelosi surrenders, like Kennedy
in 1980, it will likely be because we have not provided the backbone.
Jesse Jackson, always good for another quote, is right on point:
"We do have to leap tall buildings."