Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Former Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., the new chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), yesterday said he does not agree with efforts by Congress to set a deadline for U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.

“I think most Americans want to win, they don’t want to see us leave early, and if we leave prematurely, we may create a broader set of conflicts and invite a bigger problem in that region than before leaving,” Mr. Ford said.

He said there is pressure to set an Iraq-withdrawal timetable because there has not been sufficient change in diplomatic and military policy.

“But I believe there is a different way,” Mr. Ford said. “I have called for forbearance, opening a dialogue with Syria and Iran, thinking seriously about energy independence and understanding that we may end up with a partition-type government in Iraq.”

In his first major address to DLC members, Mr. Ford said Democrats must embrace a new generation of progressive reforms and that the 2008 presidential-primary process is the “critical time” to focus on new ideas. Cautioning that the political process may get in the way of reform, he encouraged Democratic candidates, press organizations and the DLC to keep a stronger focus on finding solutions.

“As state after state acts to move up its primary, candidates are more likely to be judged by their [campaign] war chests than by their plans to solve the country’s most pressing problems,” he said.

The DLC will hold a series of idea forums across the country with governors, mayors, members of Congress and the presidential candidates, and will be starting a new Web site ( to serve as an ideas clearinghouse for policy proposals throughout the campaign.

While Congress is complaining about there not being enough troops while dismissing military-draft proposals, the new DLC chief said, the nation must rebuild the military “bigger and stronger,” increasing the number of troops and ensuring that the Reserve Officers Training Corps is able to recruit on every college campus in the nation.

In contrast, he said that in order to heal the nation’s fiscal problems the government must get rid of “boondoggles” by cutting the number of contractors by 750,000 and must dismantle the Department of Homeland Security.

“It is too bloated to manage, too open for business to trust, and too big to fix,” Mr. Ford said.

He also spoke of returning to a progressive tax code and urged Democrats to begin a dialogue with Republicans to curb the rapid increases in spending for Social Security and Medicare.

“We have to be honest about this debate even if it means making some of our party uncomfortable,” Mr. Ford said, while at the same time calling for a universal health care plan and eliminating poverty for all working families.

Mr. Ford, a former five-term congressman from Tennessee, lost his bid to become the first black man elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction.

He said he had no interest in discussing his future political aspirations and also said he would not be endorsing anyone in the campaign as it would violate DLC bylaws.

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