I’ve made no secret on this blog and to my friends and family that I’m supporting Harold Ford, Jr. in the Tennessee Senate race this fall. Now that the election is only a few days away, it’s time to revisit why I feel that way. Let’s examine the issues in depth.
The Big Issues
Many Americans feel that the most important issue facing our country right now is the War in Iraq and the War on Terror. Many war supporters would have you believe that the two are interconnected, but they’re decidedly not. I feel that this is an important issue and that our current administration and Congress has failed miserably on this front.
It’s clear to me that we had no business in Iraq, regardless of Saddam Hussein’s abuse of power. We didn’t find WMDs, and Iraq is not the leader of the terrorist world. We shouldn’t impose democracy on a country that doesn’t want it, and the world is growing increasingly wary of our leadership on this front. Now that we’ve learned that the activities in Iraq have actually increased terrorism, I don’t think it’s possible for a reasonable person to argue that we should still be sending people over there to die (2,800 and counting). We’ve been lied to enough, and we need a legislative body that will take the Bush administration to task for this colossal failure. In areas where threats for terrorism exist, we’ve done practically nothing, so what are we actually doing out there besides subsidizing the providers of our defense infrastrucure? According to our country’s closest allies, we’re actually considered a threat to world peace because of this stupid war. I’m a pacifist by nature, so I have a hard time justifying war at all, much less one as pointless as this. It alarms me that both Ford and Corker seem to be supporters of the war, at least in general, although I appreciate Ford’s ideas for change more than Corker’s tired rhetoric. I don’t know if Ford’s plan to divide Iraq into ethnic regions would work, but it’s better than most ideas.
As a corollary to my points about war, our government is hemorrhaging money. We are trillions of dollars in debt, and there is no end in sight to the current spending pattern. We need a balanced budget immediately if we are to remain the world’s leader in anything besides defense. The current administration is so far from fiscal conservatism that their purported belief in such a thing is laughable. Debt is paying for our military while the wealthy receive tax cuts. These tax cuts supposedly benefit our economy even though the Dow Jones, when adjusted for inflation, is NOT at an all-time peak right now, as some believe. I don’t know enough about fiscal policy to say that we would be better off under a Democratic Congress, but I’m willing to give that a shot, if only for the hope of a balanced budget.
Another high-profile issue, especially here in the South, is the “family values” stance of each candidate. Personally, I’m not a big believer in legislating morality in areas where the residual effects of “immoral” activities don’t significantly adversely affect the general populace. In other words, I think it’s good that we have laws against murder, but I don’t really care if gay marriage is banned. My opinion is that both murder and homosexuality are sinful, but there’s a huge difference between the two in terms of their wider effects. In terms of this race, whether or not the candidates support things like a gay marriage ban is a secondary issue at best. Additionally, I don’t buy any conservative’s claim of standing on a moral higher ground at this point, and I think those who do probably need to cut back on the Kool-aid.
As for where the candidates stand on these issues, Corker has become more conservative as he realized he would need to be in order to win in Tennessee. In the past, he has been on both sides of the issue, but for this campaign, he has come out as anti-abortion and pro-parental consent, while Ford is also anti-abortion (I don’t like to call it pro-life, since “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are huge generalizations of the issue). Regarding gay marriage, Ford has repeatedly voted for a Constitutional amendment to ban it (contrary to what certain ads say), while Corker presumably would as well.
[Aside: If those of us who are Christians really want to have an effect on things like homosexuality, we need to get our collective act together in other ways and start actually bringing people to Christ, not legislating against them and further widening the gap between Christians and non-Christians. This will require change on a much larger scale, and I think it’s not totally off-base to say that things like Proposition 1 may actually be counter-productive, along the lines of prohibition in the early 1900s.]
Illegal immigration is perhaps the largest remaining issue in this election. Both candidates have come out against it, as expected, but Ford supposedly considers amnesty to be an option. It has ballooned into a problem because our country hasn’t addressed it previously, and there will be no quick and easy fix. Mass deportation is too cruel an option, from my perspective, but I haven’t heard any great ideas on how to address it from the inside. It’s easy enough to build fences to stop more people from entering, but I think a larger solution is necessary. Personally, this is not incredibly high on my list of priorities in this election.
Hoist up the bias flag
Now that we’ve come this far, I have a confession: it’s true that, coming into this election, I was more familiar with Corker and was already biased against him. That bias stems primarily from such poorly-considered actions as screwing up traffic in Downtown Chattanooga and illegally allowing Wal-Mart to build on an environmentally protected area. The former was merely an inconvenience, but the latter is not. I don’t like his real estate business and the influence it gave him as mayor to make deals like the one for Wal-Mart. That Wal-Mart will not provide a boost for the local economy (Wal-Marts have actually been proven to help increase poverty in their surrounding areas), and its environmental impact is a symbol of gross negligence, even if it’s not a catastrophic event. We need new ideas like Ford’s when it comes to environmental policy, not another Republican with little concern for the environment and for the poor. I think my skepticism about Corker is justified, while Ford seems to have a comparably clean record.
Other tidbits on hotly-debated points:
Corker’s business success vs. Ford’s political career: I think the political experience vs. business experience question is a toss-up. Both have their positives, and I think either candidate belittling the other in this area is unproductive.
Corker’s Tennessee upbringing vs. Ford’s DC upbringing: I think this effect is overstated by Corker’s camp. Ford is a Tennessean to me just the same as Corker is. Neither of them really strikes me as down-home Dixie, anyway.
Corker’s tax withholding: Any implication that Corker has evaded taxes is misleading. As an accountant, I know there are plenty of loopholes in the system that a businessman like Corker is likely to use. These are perfectly legal, and it’s entirely possible that Corker didn’t owe any taxes at all in certain years. He was cleared in 1994 when these allegations came up, and there’s no reason to bring them up now.
Ford’s missed votes: Sure, an elected representative should show up for work, but part of the reason why we have 2-year terms in the House is so that each representative will stay attuned to what his constituents want. That requires time away from the office, and I’m not terribly upset that Ford has used some of his time to campaign. Corker doesn’t really have anything for comparison in this area, so I’ll leave it at that.
The unanswered 911 calls: The effect might be overstated (how many of those 31,000 calls were repeats?), but it is real. The emergency response system was worse under Corker’s tenure as mayor, whether he deserves the blame or not.
Corker’s purported success in Chattanooga: As I said, I didn’t like him as mayor, and the fact that he used people who weren’t even all Chattanoogans in his ad to say he did a good job just rubs me the wrong way.
Ford’s family is corrupt: I’m not familiar with Memphis politics or the Ford family. I know they have a reputation over there, but Harold Jr. has shown no signs of corruption. Every time the Republicans play this card, is a baseless ad hominem attack.
The RNC’s “racist” ad: The issue with Ford going to a Playboy party is hugely overblown and representative of the typical crunch-time political tactic of avoiding real issues. Then again, I don’t buy that the RNC’s tasteless attack ad was overtly racist. “Tasteless” will have to suffice. By the way, if these late-game attack ads are really affecting your vote, you might consider that not everyone is always telling the truth.
Ford didn’t pass the bar exam: Who cares if Ford passed the bar exam? He’s not a lawyer, and the fact that he went to law school at all is impressive to me. If he starts bragging about cases he’s worked on, I’ll raise my eyebrows, but this looks like another attempt to get away from real issues.
Ford’s record of raising taxes: Tax law is about as complicated as any law gets, but as an accountant, I claim to understand it a little bit. Corker’s and Republicans’ implications that Ford has a record of raising taxes are mostly misleading. He has mainly voted for progressive tax cuts and simplification of tax law, while voting against the tax cuts for the wealthy that were enacted by the Republican Congress.
The bottom line
For better or for worse, I see Corker as a symbol of the Republican Party. He may or may not believe what it believes (I suppose we don’t really know yet), but at least in part, he represents what’s not right with the party and its constituents. He talks about essentially meaningless values and conservative politics without backing it up, and like most politicians, he’s tied down to other commitments to businesses and the wealthy. He may not be a terrible guy, but to me he’s no different than anyone else in Washington already. His ideas are worn-out, and to me, they are poorly constructed.
Ford may be a political animal, and he’s probably no stranger to lobbyists himself, but he has a respectable record and could be a spark that our region and our country needs to get over our biggest hurdles, like debt and war. I don’t like him on every issue, but I like his ideas on a lot of them, and I think he represents a much needed change in the direction of leadership (though he could be much more). At this point, he’s clearly the best choice for Tennessee and for a forward-thinking America, which is why I will be voting for him on Tuesday.