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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Harold Ford Jr.

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Harold Ford Jr.

Last Build Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2007 00:47:11 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

It's Time for an Ideas Primary

Wed, 25 Apr 2007 00:47:11 -0600

Let me tell you what it means to be a New Democrat in the 21st century, and what new conditions we must face together as Americans in the years to come. The core values of the New Democrat movement are the same as in 1992 when Clinton was elected president. We believe in equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. We believe in responsibilities as well as rights, and in every citizen's duty to give their country something back. We believe America must stand strong in a dangerous world, and America cannot be strong abroad unless opportunity and responsibility are strong at home. But today, we face a host of challenges that seemed far off or unimaginable 15 years ago -- the spread of Islamist fanaticism, the rise of India and China, the acceleration of climate change. We have different problems to solve, and old problems that demand different answers. And thanks to the Bush administration, we face a political culture in Washington that believes the purpose of politics is to gain power, rather than to help Americans live better. Today, our country desperately needs a healthy, honest debate about what we stand for, where we're going, and what a good president can do. This should be a proud time for that debate. Democrats have an outstanding group of candidates seeking the presidency. With no incumbent president or vice president running for the first time since 1952, we should be looking forward to an aggressive debate about how to deal with the challenges Bush's administration will leave behind. But as state after state moves up its primary, candidates are more likely to be judged by their war chests than by their plans to solve our country's most pressing problems. We risk having a big money primary at the very time we should be having an ideas primary instead. That's wrong. This isn't the fault of our candidates, many of whom have begun to put interesting proposals on the table. When Sen. Hillary Clinton proposes cutting unnecessary government contractors to put our fiscal house in order, or Sen. Barack Obama calls for political reform, or former Sen. John Edwards puts forward a plan to cut carbon emissions, or Gov. Bill Richardson announces an energy plan, their campaigns are lucky to get any national news coverage at all. By contrast, fundraisers and attack ads are treated as front-page news -- even though they won't make any difference in the lives of ordinary Americans, and won't even make the difference in this campaign. In a political atmosphere that values process over purpose, anyone who cares about ideas has a responsibility to remind everyone how much ideas matter. In our democracy, presidential elections are the best chance to set a bold new course. The next eight months could define America's future for the next eight years. So today, we say to campaigns in both parties and to the press who cover them: The horse race, the money chase, and the in-your-face can wait. Let's turn the next 12 months into the Ideas Primary instead. Over the next few months, I will hold a series of idea forums around the country with governors and other leaders to shine a light on the major challenges and new answers. The message of these forums will be that ideas matter most, and every voter in every state has a right to know what his or her next president will actually do. To advance this cause, the DLC is also launching a new website,, to serve as a clearinghouse for new policy proposals throughout the 2008 campaign. We'll keep track of ideas the candidates put forward, offer plenty of our own, and invite elected officials and experts from around the country to weigh in on what does and does not work. The Web is rife with advice on political tactics, but we believe the Internet has far greater potential: to be an online laboratory of ideas. To kick off this Ideas Primary, let me offer a few. As DLC chair, I will devote my efforts to six challenges: keeping America safe; giving Americans the tools to compete; holding government accountable for results; creating a hybrid economy; promoting family and values; and[...]

Voters Want Ideas, Not Ideology

Tue, 09 Jan 2007 00:42:39 -0600

A campaign of ideas, not ideology. No matter where our campaign traveled in Tennessee, the stories were the same -- and the new Democratic majority in the Congress must understand that. People want a solution in Iraq. They want lower taxes. They want better schools for their kids. They want access to high-quality health care that they can afford. They want to buy energy from people who aren't bent on our destruction. And they want to place their trust in leaders who will be honest with them in return. Put simply, they are tired of ideology and incompetence. Instead, they want good ideas and sound implementation. This is not to suggest that politics as usual did not play a role in our race for the U.S. Senate. Predictably, the other side once again tried to capitalize on traditional "wedge" issues -- such as gay marriage, gun control, and abortion -- that have plagued our party in recent elections. But their effect was muted by two key factors. First, most voters understood that our positions were squarely in the mainstream of Tennessee voters. Second, in the face of almost 3,000 American troops killed in Iraq and skyrocketing debt and deficits here at home, voters saw the GOP's wedge issues as divisive diversionary tactics to hide the appalling governing failures of the last six years. No doubt, the Tennessee Senate race became one of the dirtiest and sleaziest in recent memory. While disappointing, this is not altogether surprising, given the stakes. But even as my opponent's campaign reached the gutter in the closing days, my campaign stayed focused on ideas and answers. This was obviously a sound strategy. By presenting a platform of ideas rooted in Tennessee values, we won 48 percent of the vote, falling short by only 50,000 votes out of more than 1.8 million cast. In fact, on a percentage basis, our vote outperformed the 2000 and 2004 Democratic presidential candidates. We won 13 counties that John Kerry did not. We even beat my opponent, Bob Corker, in his hometown, Chattanooga. From the beginning, we were given little chance of being competitive -- let alone winning. Yet the race was so close that the Republicans were forced to spend more and work harder than anyone expected. Still, we entered this race to win, not to make a statement. While we are disappointed, we are not discouraged. We will run again one day, and we will win. Turning to the future. Our greatness as a nation lies in our values. When America is strong, the world is strong. For generations, we have been an inspiration for good, liberty, democracy, and tolerance. Our moral authority, when intact, lifts people up and makes them aspire to be something more. But we face serious challenges going forward -- two wars, the rising threats of Iran and North Korea, two growing Asian economic superpowers with energy appetites that will rival ours in the 21st century, and a government that continues to borrow and spend at historic levels while it is about to absorb the largest-ever influx of Americans at one time into the Social Security and Medicare programs. Serious challenges demand serious answers. And Democrats have always answered. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created Social Security and the Tennessee Valley Authority to meet America's needs during the Depression. President John F. Kennedy cut taxes to stimulate growth. President Lyndon Johnson created Medicare and Medicaid to care for the neediest among us. And President Bill Clinton balanced the budget to force the government to do what every American family must -- live within its means. Now the country is depending on Democrats for serious answers in these serious times. But we cannot be so arrogant as to assume that the only good idea is a Democrat's idea. We must have the courage to stress outcomes over processes. We must lead by eschewing politics as usual in favor of the politics of the possible. Here are a few specific ideas that can help make the possible a reality: First, on the most urgent challenge, Iraq, Democrats should not adopt an "I told you so"[...]