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.
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.