CHOOSE YOUR SELLOUTS. I always think articles about Harold Ford are interesting, because he's an interesting guy, and yesterday's piece in The New York Times was no exception. But they never seem to get at what is, to me, the essential oddness of Ford's political persona. The basic Ford narrative is that he's an ambitious and promising African-American politician who, through being decidedly more moderate than your average black Democrat, can maybe capture the hearts of white voters in a southern state. This all seems to make good sense. Indeed, one of the things that's changed a lot over the past 20 years is that today's "culture wars" are much less racially inflected than they were in the 1980s. Arguably, this gives African-American Democrats a possible advantage over their white colleagues since they're less likely to come out of secular, "cultural elite" backgrounds and so forth.
But then comes the problem -- Ford moderation isn't primarily a matter of cultural issues. As the Times says, "Ford presents himself as a pro-growth, centrist, fiscal hawk." He spent years building a profile as one of the Democratic Party's leading Social Security doom-mongers even though there's no evidence whatsoever that the donkey's Southern problems stem from insufficient commitment to ruining middle class retirement. Meanwhile, he's a bigger gun control advocate than Howard Dean and more pro-choice than Harry Reid. This sort of thing strikes me as a big problem. Selective ideological flexibility for the sake of broader electoral appeal is all to the good, but you need to select properly. When Democrats opt for heterodoxy, they seem to do so almost at random -- run a pro-lifer in pro-choice Pennsylvania, run an economic conservative in a state where cultural liberalism doesn't fly, etc.