Friday, February 04, 2005
Left Field Political Prediction 05-1:
Democrat Congressman Harold Ford Jr. from Tennessee will "cross the aisle" and support President Bush in establishing private Social Security accounts. He will end up one of Bush's major bipartisan partners and be invited to the signing of the final Bill.Harold Ford Jr. is one of the Democrat Party's rising stars and most certainly has his sights on higher things. Being African-American and part of the Ford political dynasty, he has never been seriously challenged in his District since his daddy decided to will the House seat to him in 1996 at the ripe old age of 26. I'd be very surprised, though, if he did not at least look at the Democrat ticket to fill Senate Majority Leader Frist's seat when he leaves the chamber in 2006. But to make the leap to a more national position will require a more national profile. His play in 2002 for Minority Leader of the House with a comparatively centrist, pragmatic position never had much chance for success and I always assumed this effort was more marketing than anything else. Being a Democrat and a Ford is, however, can be a bit of a liability in Tennessee politics on a whole. In order to seriously challenge the Republicans for the Senate seat he has to distance himself from the left and establish his bona fides as a centrist Democrat to Tennessee conservatives.
His record, to date, has not been bad on this front. He's generally supported Bush in the GWOT, only occasionally taking the odd political swipe. He's sponsored several tax bills aimed at increasing deductions of education expenses and raising the estate tax threshold, even if none seem to have made it out of committee. He has generally expressed agreement that ownership and empowerment go hand-in-hand and that economic prosperity serves as the best means to uplift people. In short, had he been born to a different family he could just as easily have landed in the Republican Party. What he hasn't had, though, is a major political victory.
Social Security reform is his chance to distinguish himself and break out from the pack. The President is getting good reviews on the matter of individual accounts and seems to have hit a line drive in shining a spotlight on the unfairness of the current system to African-Americans, a spotlight the Democrats can't extinguish without opening themselves to a lot of criticism. I think idea of keeping and being able to pass their own money on to their children will continue to win the public over to the President's general proposal. This spotlight, though, can also allow a savvy African-American pol like Junior to cross the aisle with moral authority and purpose without having to sacrifice his claims of loyalty to the Party. When it's all over and done with he not only gets to tell conservative Tennessee voters he sided with the President in reforming Social Security, he also gets to tell his Democrat constituency that he helped keep Bush's more radical right-wing tendencies in check. It's a win-win, gives him the national attention he needs and makes him a damn near shoe-in for the Senate in 2006.