Saturday, February 6, 2010

Wendi C. Thomas: Cussin' Calls Say Junior's No Gent » The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

Here's a must read about Harold Ford, Jr. from Memphis columnist, Wendi C. Thomas...h/t: Albany Times-Union Capitol Confidential - A.M. Roundup...

Read original...

Dear New Yorkers:

Perhaps you don't read the Memphis newspaper, but thanks to the miracle of the Interwebs, I'm hoping this important message will find its way to Northern climes.

Former congressman Harold Ford Jr., who, depending on the day and the audience, might claim to be from this neck of the woods, is now pondering whether he wants to represent you Yankees by challenging and beating U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in the Democratic primary.

I wouldn't know Gillibrand if she kicked me in the shins, but Junior, as we call him down here, I know fairly well since I've written about him many times.

Junior was facing Republican Bob Corker in the general election for U.S. Senate nearly four years ago. Just about every time I'd write a column that touched on Junior -- before and during the race -- I'd get a late Sunday afternoon call from him.

Because I contend he's a flip-flopping opportunist who pimps God for his purposes and didn't always vote in his constituents' best interest (his vote for the bankruptcy bill would be one stunning failure) and whose integrity could be measured in milligrams, not pounds, we often did not agree.

But my boss discourages me from using every curse word I know when talking with someone with whom I disagree.

Junior has no such compunction or personal guidelines.

In our late Sunday afternoon phone calls, Junior would start out pleasant and turn nasty quick -- something I'm sure many of his former aides could relate to.

Junior had the courtesy to introduce himself on the phone, and then the profanity would fly. A brief cussing out wouldn't warrant much mention, but Junior either had a lot to say or liked to hear himself talk -- maybe a little of both.

After a few of these calls, I realized that my presence really wasn't necessary. I could set the phone down, fry an egg, eat it, come back and Junior would still be on a tear.

Now, I don't expect politicians to be enduringly polite, especially with their critics. And if I had a dime for every such conversation (if you can call it that) we had, I'd probably only have 70 cents.

But while I was listening to Junior, a quote I'd heard about character came to mind.

It's attributed to advice columnist Abigail Van Buren and it goes like this: The best index to a person's character is how he treats people who can't do him any good, and how he treats people who can't fight back.

I could not do Junior any good, unless ceasing to write about him would be good for him. And in those conversations, I could have hung up, but honestly, I wanted to see just how far he'd go, just how crude he'd get, how hot his temper was, what kind of man he was when no one was watching.

And it wasn't pretty, as I'm sure many politicians' behavior isn't pretty when they think or hope no one is watching. (Appalachian Trail trip, departing from Argentina, anyone?)

But I haven't seen or heard from Junior in awhile.

The Democrat-depending-on-the-day has been scarce since he lost his Senate race. Junior's chances then of beating a Republican in a red state with a blue left corner were never good.

Since then, he has moved to New York, gotten married and gotten his first real job as vice chairman of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

He has taken a leave from his job to explore whether he should run. He has also changed his stance on gay rights -- he was against gay marriage, now he's for it.

So voters may be inclined to think that Junior has grown and changed, isn't the kind of man who would be abusive to journalists or staff.

He's in a new environment, in a more liberal, educated pool of voters. Maybe now the real Junior can emerge -- a politician whose public and private words and deeds New Yorkers and Tennesseans could be proud of.

But then, I remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: No change of circumstances can repair a defect of character.