Former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., Visits Campus in Voices of Color Lecture

Harold Ford, Jr., spoke in the Hamilton Chapel.
Harold Ford, Jr., spoke in the Hamilton Chapel.

Hamilton welcomed Harold Ford, Jr., as part of its Voices of Color Lecture Series on April 21. Ford is a former U.S. Representative and is currently the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and an NBC News analyst. His talk focused on the challenges facing the United States political system and ways in which they can be overcome. His speech, though sometimes critical, offered a rational ideology that many modern politicians would eschew. Ford expressed a vision that values openness and cooperation above partisanship and vicious competition.

Upon starting his lecture, Ford noted that he particularly enjoys speaking at colleges and universities. The reason for this is the unique atmosphere that college campuses offer to students, specifically an environment in which students truly listen to one another. According to Ford, this sort of listening and understanding is exactly what is missing in modern day politics.

Indeed, listening played a critical role in shaping not only the lecture, but Ford’s entire career. His start in politics was slow and his supporters painstakingly won. In a story that proved to be both insightful and humorous, Ford told his audience that he began his campaign for congressman just days after completing law school at the University of Michigan. During the first stretch of his campaign, Ford was essentially forced to create publicity wherever he could, from grocery stores to PTA meetings. His first “speaking tour” was at a series of 32 kindergarten graduations. And yet, even this small bit of attention paid off when Ford heard himself defended on the radio against a talk show host who strongly opposed him. People called in to tell stories of Ford’s ability to relate to others and his caring attitude toward his community. This experience reinforced Ford’s emphasis on listening to others as the foundation for political action.

According to Ford, deep partisanship accounts for an unwillingness by both voters and politicians to maintain an open mind and to examine issues from multiple perspectives. The United States is more polarized than ever, and distrust of the federal government is at an all-time high. Part of the reason for this is politicians’ refusal to cooperate. Though Ford established himself as a Democrat, he maintained that wishes to work together with both Democrats and Republicans to help represent citizens most accurately. He stated that he would prefer to work with a Republican over a “crazy” Democrat, and vice versa. He supports the notion that America must learn to set aside political parties in favor of forming the most effective policies possible, particularly during an economic downturn when so the financial system and healthcare are being reevaluated.

The media does not help much as far as encouraging cooperation. The most popular news shows are those that feature “yelling” instead of more constructive means of debate. Furthermore, many young people get most of their news from Comedy Central, which abides by different journalistic standards than more established media outlets.

The Democrats and Republicans frequently use each other as scapegoats for their own shortcomings. Though President Obama’s victory is historic in some ways, it is also part of the pendulum that swings back and forth between Democrat and Republican election outcomes. Obama actually owes a lot to President Bush’s administration, which set the stage for a Democrat to come into office. This is the pattern that has been repeating itself for much of recent history, and one that does not necessarily maximize the good that can be done for society. Harold Ford, Jr. advocates a more accepting approach, one in which we can all learn to sit down with one another and really listen.

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