Friday, March 31, 2006

Transcript Of Congressman Ford's Appearance On Hardball

Late last week, MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews aired an interview with Congressman Harold Ford Jr.

The transcript of that interview is below:

MATTHEWS (voice-over): There has been a Tennessee Ford in Congress for over three decades. Harold Ford Sr. served the Ninth District that includes greater Memphis for 22 years. His son, Harold Ford Jr. won his dad's Congressional seat in 1996, while still in law school, at the age of 26.

Now in his fifth term, the popular Democratic has higher aspirations.

Today he's setting his sights on Bill Frist's Senate seat in November. Frist, who was eyeing the White House in 2008, is not running for reelection in Tennessee.

FORD: How are you all doing? Hi, Harold Ford. Nice to see you.

MATTHEWS: I recently caught up with the charismatic 35-year-old Congressman at his favorite watering hole in Memphis. He's a smart and handsome, Generation X, African-American who describes himself as moderate on social issues and fiscally conservative. His political foes call him Fancy Ford, claiming on their Web site that he lives a glittery lifestyle with contributor money.

But he certainly is a celebrity in these parts. He says all this goodwill has him ready for the battle of winning a Senate seat in Tennessee, a state that currently has two Republican senators, a state which overwhelmingly voted for Bush over Kerry in the last presidential election, and a state that all but forgot Al Gore in 2000.

MATTHEWS (on camera): So Congressman, why are you running for the Senate?

FORD: The country is facing probably its biggest set of challenges that my generation has ever seen, from fighting two wars at one time, trying to reclaim our moral authority, combined with the fact we have got to get off of all of this Middle East oil and find new energy sources, balance our budget, and help students like these here from the University of Memphis and students all across the country get better prepared for a world that is changed.

MATTHEWS: You know, you and I both know America. And it's ethnically conservative. Let's put it that way. It just is. Do you think you can beat that hurdle?

FORD: Yes. You know, and I've got great faith in people in this state and if people decide they want to go to the polls and not vote for me because of something that I was born with, and something that I'm proud of, then I've got to live with that.

God has blessed me and I'll do something else, but I've got great faith that people are going to—not rise above it but look to what I'm talking about. And my opponents are already trying to raise it. I mean, shame on the state Republican Party and the national party for some of the code words they're already using in this campaign.

MATTHEWS: Like what?

FORD: Just that I'm from Memphis and I'm a liberal from Memphis.

MATTHEWS: I got you.

FORD: It's all code and ...

MATTHEWS: Those are permission slips.

FORD: Yes, I mean, I know what they're doing and you know what? So do the voters.

MATTHEWS: What's the difference between Harold Ford now, you right now sitting here, and who you were when you first came to the House as a young guy? I mean, what have you learned? How have you shifted politically, ideologically?


FORD: I mean, I've grown up.

MATTHEWS: Are you more conservative than you were?

FORD: I don't know. I don't know if the word conservative has changed. When I arrived in Congress, I believed in balanced budgets and I assumed that was a conservative, Republican principle, the way—at least the world I grew up in and the time I grew up.

And now it appears that seems to be more Democrat than Republican when we look at the size of government. I like low taxes. We now live at a time where middle class people pay a higher share of their taxes than billionaires do in the country, so I don't know if it's conservative or liberal.

I just know that politics, I think, over the last nine years, in my little observation, has become more right and wrong than Democrat-Republican. And I just try my hardest to be on the side of doing what's right.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you. I saw you in an ad here the other night on television, hitting the president for the security of the ports, this whole issue of Dubai.


FORD: President Bush wants to sell this port and five others to the United Arab Emirates, a country that had diplomatic ties with the Taliban, the hope of two 9/11 hijackers, whose banks wired money to the terrorists. I'm running for the Senate because we shouldn't outsource our national security to anyone.


MATTHEWS: Why did you stick your neck out and take a position on that one?

FORD: Well, the United States Senate—you know as well as all of us, the Congress and the Senate, we vote on these patterns. And if New York is attacked, we in Memphis and we in Jackson and we in Nashville, we don't think of that as some distant country, that's our country. The purpose of that ad, however, was to say we shouldn't outsource our security.

MATTHEWS: Where do you stand on the tax you have to pay when you die, the death tax?

FORD: If there's a way to eliminate it, I want to eliminate it.

MATTHEWS: Well, you said you were against millionaires and they

shouldn't get any special tax breaks, and that's the ultimate millionaires


FORD: I think the people that own this bar here, as they pass it on to another generation, should be protected. We should have an exemption that protects the first $5 million of an asset. Anything above that should be, I think, taxed at perhaps the capital gains rate. I think eliminating it altogether is foolish.

MATTHEWS: From the populist, liberal Democrats who make a lot of noise want to get rid of that or want to keep that tax?

FORD: I think that may be slightly—a lot of Democrats believe the

blue dog, which I'm a member of, believe you raise the amount that you

protect, and you've got to tax some of it. I mean, I don't have a lot of -

don't take this the wrong way, but people worth 150, 200, $250 million, they're going to be all right.

I'm worried about this kid paying for his college education and not taking money to give a tax cut to people who have net worths of $200 million or more.

People trying to pass on an asset like this place here, worked hard, a lot of sweat equity. A lot of Democrats should be proud of this because I think one of the reasons this bar and small businesses like it do well, because Democratic policies have helped them and we shouldn't punish people with they pass on...

MATTHEWS: ... Are there any—I'm trying to find areas where you separate from sort of the classy, 100 percent ADA liberal.

FORD: One of the great things about being from where I'm from is I think my faith and the role of faith in society is a big thing and it's hard for me to separate the two. And wherever you can find instances where people of faith can have an impact in changing things, in improving lives, in touching people's lives, we should be in the business of doing it.

MATTHEWS: Do you have a lot of problem with liberals in your base or anti-war people for having authorized the action back in 2003 against Iraq?

FORD: I think rightly so, everyone has questions. There's no doubt.

MATTHEWS: Do you wish you hadn't done it?

FORD: If I knew what I know now, naturally I wouldn't have done it.

But I can't go back and re-live those decisions. I've got to now figure out how we correct what's been done. The reality is, I don't think we can leave Iraq today and it's because if we do, there's a country next door to it that would dominate it. Iran would dominate.

MATTHEWS: Do you think it's possible for the United States to be economically independent in that part of the world?

FORD: Kennedy inspired your generation by saying we're going to figure out how to get this space, we're going to organize our talents and resources to do it. We don't have a choice but to do this. If we make the investment in higher education, make the investment in our universities and research centers, I have no doubt that we can accomplish it. As a matter of fact, we have to.