Journal of Leadership and the Law

AMERICA AT ITS STRONGEST

REMARKS BY HAROLD FORD, JR.

ON THE NEW JERSEY AND VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION RESULTS FROM NOVEMBER 3, 2009

Harold Ford Jr. at Elon LawIn so many ways it reminds us that the political nature of this country remains intact.  Even as people are as excited as they were over President Obama’s victory in 2008, in so many ways, that too was typical of America.  Not that we have elected a black president before; that point is not lost on any of us, but President Obama’s presidency, his election, in so many ways was a direct answer to the last eight years.  Every president is a response, in so many ways, to his predecessor.  President Bush, misunderstood at best, woefully inadequate at worst.  The country said “We want someone who will manage things differently -- the war and the spending.”  So Obama was elected.  I happen to think that if Hillary Clinton had been nominated, she probably would have won the race as well.  That being said, this President and the White House have to take a few lessons from the other night.  The country believes in him, they want change, they believe in his message of hope, but hope doesn’t produce jobs, and hope doesn’t make payrolls.  I am hopeful, to play on the words, and confident, that not only will they take lessons from the other night, but Democrats and Republicans [will] as a whole, because there was a message for Republicans as well.  The infighting within the Republican Party, being conservative or really conservative or way-out-there conservative -- if Republicans want to continue to fight along that continuum, they will continue to lose.

ON THE ROLE OF INDEPENDENT VOTERS

I happen to believe the country is stronger when both parties are vibrant, healthy, constructive, and assertive.  There are philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans, but the more Democrats nominate the far left and Republicans nominate the far right, the more Americans will rush to be independent.  As a matter of fact, the largest political party in the country by plurality is, indeed, the Independent Party.  They don’t call themselves that; they just call themselves independents.  President Obama’s numbers in 2008 were large in states, including this one [North Carolina], and Virginia, largely because independents saw in him something they liked.  The President has to figure out how to recapture that; not only for his own political fortunes, but to produce for the country.  We do that, and America is able to re-establish itself.

ON PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP AND THE COUNTRY'S DIRECTION

For politicians, one of the hardest things, and certainly [one of the hardest things] in any leadership position, is to learn lessons when they are staring you, or punching you, in the face.  The beauty and the greatness of this country in so many ways is that it depends on a set of leaders with a set of skills who are not only willing to show courage but are willing to admit mistakes.  Earlier today, when I sat with some of the students, we got to talking a little bit about leadership, and I shared something my Dad shared with me. . . He said, “When you get to Congress, remember a couple of things: Always remember the people, always listen to the other side, even your own side, and never question the motives or intent, the personal motivations of someone else, particularly in a political debate.”  I would add one more. Being able to admit when something hasn’t gone quite like you wanted it to go, even when you’ve invested so much in it, all in an effort to make it right.  This President, this Congress, [are] faced with one of those choices right now.  The great accountability of our political system allows voters to say yea or nay, up or down, to what we do or what we don’t do, or what they do or what they don’t do, in politics.

ON THE NEED FOR BIPARTISANSHIP

This country spoke loud and clear two nights ago, making it very clear to President Obama, “We like you, we believe in you, we are fed up with all of the spending and the lack of results, and if we don’t begin to produce jobs and generate jobs again in this nation, we are going to change course, even with your party, if you give us that chance in a year,” which they certainly will get.  I’m confident, I should say I’m hopeful, and want to be confident, that the President will listen, and I’m hopeful and confident that he will find partners, not only in his own party, but also in the Republican Party.  The great tradition in American politics of one party being in charge and the other just criticizing, and criticizing, and criticizing, does very few any good.  The great thing about our system is that it is at its strongest when both parties are offering ideas and competing along that continuum.  If the competition is just who can yell the loudest, whose commentators on cable networks can yell the loudest, or say the most things, even if things are not true, it doesn’t serve us, it doesn’t serve the political system, and it certainly doesn’t serve the future.  The next 12 months, how Congress, how the White House, and how our political class in this country conduct themselves, I believe, will determine in large part the way our economy looks going forward, the way politics in Washington looks going forward, and perhaps the most important thing, the way America is positioned in the world going forward.