Former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (Tenn.) gave his inaugural speech as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council on Wednesday, pledging that his organization would spend the 2008 election cycle exploring new ideas to confront the nation’s problems.
Speaking to a packed crowd at a Capitol Hill hotel, Ford said the DLC would organize “a series of idea forums around the country with governors and other leaders to shine a light on the major challenges we face and the new answers we have to offer.”
As a complement to these forums, the DLC, he said, will launch a new Web site, www.ideasprimary.com, which will serve as “a clearinghouse for new policy proposals throughout the 2008 campaign.”
“The horse race, the money chase, and the in-your-face can wait,” Ford said, blasting the media for too often focusing on the drama of campaigns rather than the ideas the candidates produce. “Let’s turn the next year into the ‘Ideas Primary’ instead.”
It was Ford’s first major address in Washington, D.C., since narrowly losing a bitter Senate race in November. While it may not have been the return to the nation’s capital that Ford had envisioned, at age 36 he still is seen as a rising star in Tennessee and national politics, and he was introduced to the crowd as the “gentleman from Tennessee” by another rising political star with a somewhat more liberal profile, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
While at times criticizing President Bush for a failure of leadership, Ford was equally skeptical of traditional Democratic orthodoxy — a common refrain among many DLC leaders through the years.
“My message here is simple,” Ford said. “It is time to put the ‘New’ back in New Democrat. It is time to put new ideas back at the heart of American politics. And it is time to make clear the mission of our party and the purpose of America: to give everyone the opportunity to get ahead, demand new responsibility from every American, and have America lead the world through the power of our example, our faith, and our ideals.”
Throwing out the opening pitch in his ideas primary, Ford laid out six policy challenges that he would devote his chairmanship to confronting: “keeping America safe; giving Americans the tools to compete; holding the government accountable for results; creating a hybrid economy; promoting family and values; and ending poverty for all who work.”
Ford proposed creating a “worldwide Democracy coalition” to act as a counterweight to a “United Nations Security Council [that] can’t or won’t do the job” and as an alternative to “unilateral U.S. action.”
Speaking about proposals to fix entitlement programs and other fiscal deficits, Ford said the DLC should put forth innovative ideas “even if they make some in our own party uncomfortable.” He also called for “breaking up” the Department of Homeland Security, which he said was “too bloated to manage, too open for business to trust and too doggone big to fix.”
Ford’s dynamic speech became somewhat muted midway through when his microphone cut off, forcing him to deliver most of his remaining remarks without amplification.