Conventional wisdom will say that Harold Ford Jr. lost just because he’s black.
Conventional wisdom is an idiot.
If there’s one thing you non-Tennesseans take away from this I hope it’s not that Ford lost because we’re a bunch of racist backwoods hicks.
The two main reasons Ford lost are as follows:
1. Every time there’s some kind of political scandal in this state some relative of Ford’s is caught up in it. His family is corrupt in a way they write Shakespearian dramas about. Corrupt in a way that approaches great art, so corrupt. And yet, because Ford was dependant on the political will of his family and their cronies and such to run a campaign, he could never distance himself from his family. Of course, he said he wouldn’t talk about his family, and so there never was any frank, loud discussion about how he was different than them, even though they brought him up through their system.
2. Because he didn’t ever talk about what distinguished him from the rest of his family and because he has a well-known and well-earned reputation as something of a playboy, when he started talking about Jesus, it was shocking. It signaled, I believe, a complete disconnect between what the voters of Tennessee wanted to know and what Ford thought we wanted from him. We wanted to know if he was going to be a good man; he wanted to assure us that he was a Christian.
As everybody knows, being a Christian is not the same thing as being a good man.
How could someone from a deeply corrupt family who himself has a reputation of something of a party boy stand in a church and claim that his love for Jesus should be a deciding factor in the election? Not only did it seem kind of gross, I’m convinced it seemed like an enormous "What the fuck?" to a lot of Christians. You don’t get the benefits of being a Christian just by claiming to go to church; you have to give yourself over to real life change. Ford wanted the benefits of being a Christian politician without having to publicly explain what kind of real change he’d undergone to separate himself from the ickiness in his past.
Yes, I’m sure that some folks voted against Ford because they were not going to vote for a black man, period. After all, when folks put so much emphasis on Ford being "from Memphis" I think we all get that "ooo, he’s from a scary city full of black people! oooo!"
But the truth is that he came very close to winning the seat now held by the Senate Majority Leader. Very close. Which means that a number of folks were putting aside their "racialist" tendencies and voting for Ford anyway. He lost because of his own misstep on the religion thing. I think it’s as simple as that.
He ran an almost flawless campaign, which made the one flaw so much more obvious and meaningful.
Sean Braisted would seem to disagree with me slightly. This, I imagine, comes as a surprise to no one.