Decisions for Democrats

By Joshua Steinman

When John F. Kennedy ran for Congress in 1946, he billed himself as a “fighting conservative.” He did this in Massachusetts. And won. As a Congressman Kennedy routinely supported a like-minded center-left Republican who had billed himself as a “practical liberal” in his first run for Congress, also in 1946: Richard Nixon. Their offices were, at one point, directly across the hall from one another. Kennedy gave Nixon $1,000 for his first Senate run.

In just over 48 hours, the Democrats will be electing a new Minority Leader in the House of Representatives. Just like in the years following World War II, there are several factions of the Democratic Party in need of strong leadership. The current consensus is that that California liberal Nancy Pelosi will become the next Minority Leader. Ms. Pelosi’s opponent, Congressman Harold Ford Jr. from Tennessee, is a much better choice.

Pelosi represents the greater San Francisco Bay region of California, which is perceived by most as one of the last bastions of radical liberalism. Republicans will seize the opportunity to raise funds from conservative donors. Just like when Hillary Clinton ran for the Senate, they will use scare tactics to drum up contributions from conservatives across the nation scared that Pelosi will start handing out condoms and pot to their kids.

Congresswoman Pelosi’s opposition to war in Iraq and elements of Bush’s plans for the War on Terrorism, combined with her support of liberal socialist programs like needle exchange, will only serve to paint the Democrats as “California liberals,” who have no sense of “American values.”

Congressman Ford, on the other hand, is under 40, African-American, articulate, and with an approachable manner. Compared with the old, wrinkled, white faces of the Republican Party, he will give the Democrats a youthful image. and appeal to moderates across the country, from Pelosi’s home state of California to Ford’s home state of Tennessee.

Election of Congresswoman Pelosi may alienate younger centrist voters, who could come to see the Democratic Party as too extreme. California remains a solid Democratic State, with Democrats holding all the important offices in the state. There is nothing more to be won in California. Harold Ford Jr. will give the Party a fresh face from the south who can challenge Bush in his home base. Pelosi’s numerous votes against the War on Terror may alienate moderates who support the war, but disagree with Bush’s domestic agenda. The Democrats need these voters. Harold Ford Jr., who voted for the Iraq war resolution, will be able to take foreign policy off the table and place the focus directly on the Bush Administration’s failed domestic agenda. With no dissent on foreign policy, the Democrats can eliminate it as a partisan issue. If the Republicans try to sneak domestic items in by tacking them on to foreign policy bills, the Democrats will simply be able to call their bluff. They can accuse them of using President Bush’s popularity to pass an extremist, right-wing agenda that favors corporations that steal from their employees while milking them for all they’re worth.

The Democrats need to have a strong basis of practical opposition to key Bush policies domestically. The Democratic nominee for President must be able to campaign with House candidates without risk of being labeled an extremist liberal. Though Nancy Pelosi is far from radical, she certainly is one of the most liberal members of the Democratic Party. President Bush has indicated that he plans to continue his extremist conservative agenda over the next two years. This agenda includes policies like Social Security privatization, pro-business anti-environmentalist laws, and overturning Roe v. Wade. By opposing these policies, the Democrats can take back the center. Otherwise Bush will use the same tactic he used in the 2000 election: portraying himself as a centrist, while in reality hewing to an ultraconservative domestic agenda.

This is all happening on Thursday. What can you do? Call your Democratic Representatives and Senators. Urge them to support Congressman Ford. Cite some of the reasons why you’re worried about the future of the party, and how Congressman Ford will be able to allay those fears. Talk about the risks of electing Congresswoman Pelosi. Whatever you do, don’t remain silent.