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Tipping the Balance
March 27, 2002
By Richard Prasad

On Sunday, March 17, Tipper Gore announced that she was not going to run to try to replace the soon-to-be-retired Republican Fred Thompson. While many in the Democratic Party are saddened by this decision, it was ultimately the right choice for Mrs. Gore.

But what of Bob Clement, the only Democrat running in the Tennessee Senate race, is he truly a moderate Democrat, or is he just like many Southern Democrats, Republican lite? Would a better choice for Tennessee Senate have been Harold Ford Jr.?

Tipper Gore is of course most well known for being Mrs. Al Gore, the wife of the Vice President. But she has also become well known as an advocate on the treatment of the Mentally Ill. She served as a Mental Health Policy Advisor to President Clinton, after she disclosed she had bouts of depression herself. Her work with the mentally ill, sometimes anonymously on the streets of Washington DC, is admirable. Mrs Gore has also served as a special advisor to the Interagency Council on the Homeless - also very commendable.

The only other policy related stance that Mrs. Gore has taken to my memory is the founding of the PMRC in 1985. The Parents Music Resource Center ultimately forced the record industry to put those annoying labels on music that featured explicit lyrics. As a music fan, and First Amendment fan, I cannot tell you how much those warning labels bother me.

If a teenager wants to listen to explicit music, he or she will do so no matter what. In fact, many kids will want to buy the music more when they see it has explicit lyrics. It is up to the parents of kids to listen to what their kids listen to, and make an informed decision by themselves about what their kids listen to. Labelling of music was de-facto censorship and weak kneed censorship at that, and the record companies caved in. However, downloading of music and CD burning makes the whole music labeling debate moot, because record companies can't label what kids download.

The whole music labeling debate was not the only reason why I was happy that Tipper Gore didn't run. I simply didn't know where Tipper stood on the issues, because she never made her stances public. Where does she stand on gun control, on abortion, on the war on terrorism? I don't know. And I don't think a six month campaign for Senate is a long enough time to find out. I am a policy wonk, as they say in political circles. Issues are what draw me to candidates. I am not a person who is impressed by celebrity candidacies. Just because someone has high name recognition, that by itself cannot and should not guarantee a seat on the United States Senate.

The inevitable comparison will always be drawn between Tipper Gore and Hillary Clinton. Here too, Tipper falls short. Hillary Clinton played a major role in shaping her husband's policies, most notably in the formation of Clinton's universal health care policy. Mrs Clinton set up a health care commission, which she was either rightly or wrongly, based on your point of view, attacked by the Republicans in Congress. Ultimately the universal health care initiative went down to defeat, but Hillary was out front, ready to take whatever slings and arrows Republicans were throwing. Yes, Mrs. Gore did head the PMRC, yes that organization was controversial in some circles, but putting labels on records is hardly the same as trying to fundamentally reshape the health care system in America.

In addition, Mrs. Clinton is a lawyer, who served on one of the congressional committees looking into the impeachment of President Nixon. Mrs Clinton was a staffer on that impeachment committee, she is a political animal, through and through. Mrs Clinton's tenacity shows, even this early in her term. She stunned White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels into admitting that he tried to shortchange New York City of post-9/11 funds. Mrs Clinton also set up hearings to determine the air quality of ground zero, winning praise from conservatives and liberals alike.

Mrs. Gore, kind and decent though she might be, never struck me as politically inclined.

So where does that leave Democrats in 2002? The Democratic candidate for Senate is Bob Clement. My first reaction was - Bob Who? I said I wasn't big on name recognition, but this man has no name recognition outside of Tennessee But the focus should be on issues, so let's see where he stands on some issues.

On May 27, 1999, Clement and 27 other Democrats wrote a letter to President Clinton asking to halt the bombing for 72 hours in Yugoslavia. Clement said in the letter, "Make no mistake, we support the war in Yugoslavia, but we believe that it is time to give diplomacy a chance." That is a clear example of a politician trying to have it both ways, acting both hawkish and dovish on a war, at the same time, if that's at all possible. Yugoslavia was an unabashed example of genocide in the making, Clinton acted decisively and Milosovich is undergoing war crimes trials. Clement was wrong to hedge. On other defense related matters, Clement is predictably more hawkish, he supported the deployment of SDI in a March 1999 bill introduced by Republican Curt Weldon. As the attacks on Sept 11 proved, SDI can protect us from very little, if anything at all

Clement has a pretty good record on the environment. Although he voted no on raising CAFE standards on cars on August 1, 2001, he also voted against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on August 1, 2001, and voted to implement the Kyoto Protocol in an amendment proposed on June 26, 2000. In 1997 Clement announced his support of environmental cleanup legislation, and stated that the Tennessee river is once of the most polluted in the country. Clement's positions concerning the environment are undeniably strong.

Clement also seems pretty moderate on education. He voted for increased testing for students when he voted yes on George W. Bush's Leave No Child Behind Act of 2001. Many Democrats voted for that - heck, Ted Kennedy co-sponsored the bill in the Senate. Clement voted no on a bill in 1994 that would give federal aid only to schools that allowed voluntary prayer, and he supported a Senate bill by Joe Leiberman, in 2001 that was called the 3 R's bill. The Reinvestment, Reinvention and Responsibility bill would have spent $35 billion on lowering class size and increasing teacher pay. It was basically an alternative to the Bush plan that was dropped when President Bush dropped his demand for vouchers. Clement is also a consistent supporter of music education. He proposed a concurrent resolution to Bush's No Child Left Behind Act that said students need to have access to a well balanced sequential music education.

There are votes that Clement has cast that do trouble me however. On March 7th Clement was one of only 10 Democrats to vote for the entire Bush tax cut. You remember the Bush tax cut don't you? The tax cut that took America from having large surpluses to deficit spending? We have Democratic representatives like Bob Clement to thank for that tax cut. Thank you Mr Clement.

On 11/1/2001, Clement voted for something called the Secure Transportation for America Act. What is that? It was the Republican substitute bill for the airport security bill. The one that did NOT federalize airport security personnel. The one that would have kept airport security in the hands of private security companies. The same private companies that contributed to 9/11. The Republican substitute happily didn't pass, and the President succumbed to pressure and passed a bill that did federalize airport security. Thank you Mr. Clement for wanting to maintain a lousy status quo system of airline security.

These positions and others, give me reason to pause in my support for Representative Clement. It is okay to have disagreements as a party, it is not okay to pose as a Democrat, to get the sizable southern minority vote and turn around and vote with the Republicans on everything they propose. Zell Miller has used this strategy to perfection. Miller, it seems, never fails to criticize his own party on any and every issue. We don't need a Senate with faux Democrats like Miller. I hope that Clement is not one of those wolves in cheap Republican clothing.

What is the alternative? Democrats could have acted boldy and urged Harold Ford to run. Harold Ford Jr. is an up-and-coming star in the Democratic Party. Harold Ford burst onto the scene as a congressman in 1996, at the astonishingly young age of 26. He was really in the spotlight in the year 2000, when he was one of the keynote speakers during the 2000 Democratic National Committee Convention.

Ford spoke of representing a new generation of voters "committed to ideals and inspired by an unshakable sense of confidence." That is one of the most encouraging things about Ford, he represents both the idealism and confidence of youth. At a time when we worry if Dick Cheney's heart will last another two years, Harold Ford's youth could have energized a whole new generation into getting involved in politics. A generation typified by cynicism and a high degree of voter apathy.

Ford is an unapologetic supporter of two of the most important issues in good government politics today. Election Reform and Campaign Finance Reform. On March 1st, 2001 Ford said this about Election Reform. "Clearly the result of this election cries out for greater standardization in voting techniques and better voting technology." The House passed an Election Reform Bill, unfortunately the Senate attempt for Election reform failed to pass a promised Republican filibuster, and on March 1, 2002, election reform, the issue that gained so much national prominence after the voting debacle in Florida, a bill that Harold Ford supported, died a quiet death.

The other good government issue that Ford championed was Campaign Finance Reform. Ford has spoken out in favor of campaign finance reform on many occasions, pointing out that "soft money" previously only used for such practices as issue ads, and get out the vote campaigns, was now being used to support individual candidates. He cited the increased use of soft money by candidates as a major corrupting factor in politics. Ford voted for Shays-Meehan, HR 2356, and it passed the House 240 to 189 on February 14th. That seems like a comfortable margin looking back, but there were questions about whether some in the congressional black caucus would vote for the competing Wynn-Nay Bill, co-sponsored by a member of the black caucus. If Harold Ford withheld his support of Shays-Meehan, who knows how many members of the black caucus would have followed his lead, and that would have put passage of Shays-Meehan in serious doubt. His support was so pivotal that Russ Feingold mentioned Ford's name and thanked him for his support on final passage of the Senate version of the Campaign Finance Reform Bill.

While supporting major pieces of legislation like Campaign Finance Reform and Election Reform, Ford is starting to carve out a niche for himself in the areas of education finance, and national service. He is on the Education Committee in the house. He sponsored a bill in 2001 to authorize funds to schools that have made improvements in teacher quality and student achievement. Ford has also authored "The Make College More Affordable Act," which called for tax deductions on tuition, room and board, and interest on college loans. This act became law in 2001.

Ford, also a member of the Finance Committee, has sponsored a bill called the Consumer Credit Empowerment Act. The bill called for easier access for consumers to their credit reports, which would be provided for free under this bill. According to a New York Times article from July 4th 2001, blacks paid up to $800 more for car loans. Ford feels that a better informed consumer would end the disparity on car loan charges.

Ford co-sponsored "The Call to Service Act", which called for an expansion of President Clinton's Americorps program. The bill calls for 200,000 more Americorps volunteers and emphasizes the importance that Ford places on service to one's own community. The bill was introduced last November, and the idea of expanding Americorps was co-opted by George W. Bush in his state of the Union Address.

There is one aspect of Harold Ford's young political career that makes him unique. He is the only member of the Congressional Black Caucus that is a member of the Blue Dog Democrats. The Blue Dog Democrats have basically fought for two major issues in recent years, a balanced budget and campaign finance. The Blue Dogs, and the rest of the Democratic Party, fought hard to give us surpluses in the late 90's, and George W. Bush's tax cuts blew a hole in that surplus, that is why Ford voted against it. His Blue Dog allegiance made him a believer in fiscal discpline. George W. Bush gives Blue Dog Democrats some issues, he takes some away. He will sign campaign finance reform into law soon, with the Enron scandal looming in the background, Bush wants to make it appear as if he believes in reform.

Sure, there are issues where Harold Ford has voted differently then I would have, but mostly these are issues of conscience. For example, he voted yes on a bill that bans people taking minors to get abortions. But again abortion is a deeply personal issue with many aspects to it, Ford is still pro-choice with exceptions, and reasonable people can disagree what those exceptions are. On the big issues, Ford and I agree.

There is a school of thought in politics that says if a person waits his turn, eventually he will get his chance to run for office. Frankly, the "wait your turn" school of politics is for losers. Bill Clinton didn't wait his turn, he ran against Bush Sr, while Sr.'s approval ratings were in the 80s. Other big-name Democrats like Mario Cuomo were scared off by Sr.'s popularity. Cuomo was in turn beaten by George Pataki for Governor of New York. Cuomo will never have a chance to be President because he waited for just the right moment, and in politics there is no such thing as just the right moment.

Harold Ford is being told to wait his turn right now, but I say he would have never had a better chance than right now to become a Senator. The Tennessee seat is an open seat, and he would have run against Lamar Alexander. Lamar had to put an exclamation point after his name on his campaign signs, that's how dull Lamar is. Lamar wore a plaid shirt in the Presidential primaries and that was all I remember about him!

All I can hope is that Bob Clement remembers his moderate stances on the environment and education and serves in the Senate as a true moderate, not a Zell Miller Republicrat. However, I cannot help but feel that the Democrats missed a golden opportunity to appeal to young voters, minorities and moderate whites in Tennesse, by choosing Clement and freezing out Harold Ford Jr.

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