- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2002

By long tradition and with precious few exceptions, nobody gets elected to a top leadership position in Congress without already being on the leadership track. As a result, both the Republican and Democratic parties often have suffered under ineffective or wrong-headed leadership. It would appear that the Democrats are about to follow that same tradition to that same end by endorsing left-winger Nancy Pelosi over moderate progressive Harold Ford Jr. for House minority leader this week.

Indeed, Mr. Ford just 32 and finishing his third term has been derided by the Democratic establishment as impetuous and untested. Despite her commanding lead, Mrs. Pelosi couldn't resist taking a swipe at her challenger. "Well, I've been in office eight months," she quipped, referring to her recent election as minority whip. "I guess when you're very young eight months seems like a long time."

Mrs. Pelosi has been a larger Democratic influence for longer than that, and given the Democrats' lackluster performance last Tuesday, a fresh face and fresh ideas are Mr. Ford's strongest selling points. As Mr. Ford said Friday: "We can't deny the fact that the voters rejected us on Nov. 5. Not only did they reject us a week ago … they rejected us two years before that, two years before that, two years before that."

A young, black politician with deep Tennessee roots, Mr. Ford is the kind of Democrat that Republicans should fear. In a caucus that lacks both ideas and energy, he is full of both. Though Mr. Ford holds liberal positions on issues like guns and entitlements, he has shown himself open to ideas such as school vouchers, globalization and tax cuts. Indeed, rather than reversing the president's tax package, as Mrs. Pelosi has advocated, Mr. Ford has assembled a package that recognizes the role of investors and corporate America and not just the government in stimulating the economy. That is a more substantive starting point than Democrats have offered thus far.

Mr. Ford's challenge to the Democratic establishment illustrates another danger the party faces: the crumbling of the 1960s voting bloc. The politics of race is changing in America, and blacks no longer may be presumed to be in the back pocket of the Democratic Party. Civil rights still matter, of course, but so does opportunity in other areas, particularly economic. Mr. Ford has been attuned to this dynamic for some time. "I recognize that I stand here this evening because of the brave men and women …who fought and stood and oftentimes sat down to help create that more perfect union," he said in his keynote address to the 2000 Democratic National Convention. "But I also stand here … representing a new generation, a generation committed to the ideals of the past but inspired by an unshakable confidence in our future."

As minority leader, Mr. Ford would keep the GOP leadership on its toes, forcing it to pursue bold new ideas such as privatizing Social Security rather than standing idly by, ready to reap the benefits when the Democratic Party self-destructs. That would be good for both parties and the country.

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