Let's do a short update on the Fainthearted Faction.
Former congressman Tim Roemer voted against the Filner Amendment back in 2001, which would have gotten him grandfathered into the Faction, only he retired from congress in 2002. We've always liked Roemer. Since then he served on the 9/11 Commission and now he's thrown his hat into the ring for the DNC chair. We think he's a good spokesman for the party if not necessarily the spokesman.
Now, it turns out that back in 2000, when he was defending his seat against challenger Chris Chocola (whose name always makes me think of Count Chocula; but that's growing up in the '70s for ya. My mom -- God bless her heart -- was a bit of a health food nut. So such delicacies were few and far between.), he campaigned heavily on his opposition to privatization or any other plan to phase out Social Security and replace it with private accounts.
Distinguishing himself from Chocola didn't end up being all that hard since Chocola had had an accidental moment of honesty in an interview with a local paper in which he said that then-candidate Bush's plan was "a start." "Eventually," he continued, "I'd like to see the entire system privatized."
(Chocola was elected to the seat in 2002 after Roemer declined to run again.)
Given the backstory, I figure Roemer opposes phasing out Social Security. But his vote against the Filner Amendment still does raise some questions. Given that he's running to be the titular head of the Democratic party and that Social Security seems likely to be the defining issue for the next two years -- at least in terms of domestic policy -- you'd think he might make some simple statement just to make clear where he stands.
(I put in a call today but haven't heard anything back.)
On the senate side, the more we hear about Jonathan Cowan et al.'s Third Way outfit the more concerned we get, given his strong past advocacy of replacing Social Security with a private accounts system and with what many are telling us is the group's goal of giving Red State Dems alternative policy positions to both Republicans and the Democrats, notwithstanding the policy merits.
We also haven't yet been able to get any comment from any of the group's co-chairs Senators Bayh, Lincoln and Carper. That's still not enough to get them in the Faction. But put us down as concerned.
Meanwhile, what about the Dean? You know, Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.? Someone reminded me of this great Ryan Lizza article from 2002 in TNR.
Here are a few choice moments ...
Consider Ford's role in the race between Republican Anne Northrup and Democrat Jack Conway for Kentucky's third district in the last election. Northrup was considered one of the most vulnerable House Republicans, and, to help challengers like Conway, the party instituted a "buddy" system in which safe incumbents would campaign for particular candidates. Ford was assigned to Conway. The only problem was that he never did any of the fund-raising or campaigning expected of him. Finally, close to Election Day, a furious Dick Gephardt intervened and called Ford, demanding he get to Kentucky. The night before he arrived, Ford called Conway's staff, but by then there were no useful events they could set up. He campaigned for about half a day. Northrup won by four points and scored an impressive 20 percent of the black vote--a constituency with which Ford, African American himself, obviously could have helped Conway.
His last spat with the party establishment came two years later, when his friend Al Gore invited him to deliver the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. As usual, the media wrote laudatory profiles about the 30-year-old, black, Southern New Democrat who represented the future of the party. Behind the scenes, however, Gore's aides were not as praiseworthy. They complained that he was a headache to work with. They were disappointed with his initial version of the speech, but, when they dispatched writers to fix it, Ford dug in his heels. "Harold Ford deeply resented this," says one Democratic strategist who was involved. Gore's senior aides were so frustrated that they actually bumped the keynote address out of its prime-time slot. (Months later, they learned that Ford had relied on Republican media consultant Frank Luntz to shape the speech.)
Ahhh, the Ford-Luntz connection. It just gets better and better.
Anyway, I need to take advantage of one of my first but regrettably not my last opportunity to pull age rank on Ford (by my calculations I'm a year or so older than he is), and say that maybe the Dean just needed a little seasoning to get all this foolishness of his system and soon he'll fly right. And as we said a couple days ago, as long as he's going to be cynical and opportunistic, you'd think he'd have a better feel for which issues he could effectively cynically exploit, right?
Finally, two last points.
First, we're moving full steam ahead on our Social Security 'where do they stand' database. And to those of you who've volunteered your time, we have your letters and we'll be in touch soon.
Second, as we compile the Faction and marvel at the Dean and so forth, I hope no one will lose sight of the fact of just how united Democrats already are on this issue. Traditional Labor-Liberal Dems and New Dems are both going to end up opposing this because of values and goals they both share. Keep an eye out for signs and announcements on this front in the coming weeks and months. The point here is to get the relatively few stragglers back with the program because politically speaking the difference between down-the-line Democratic opposition and merely overwhelming opposition could turn out to be all the difference in the world. Some folks in the Faction probably already want to defend Social Security or will come around to the right view soon enough. We're just trying to make sure.