Changes on the Horizon

Former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. speaks on current state of affairs and potential changes ahead in political world 

By Daniel A. Washington 

After spending 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democratic Party member, Harold Ford Jr. has become a regular contributor on MSNBC and CNBC discussing policy and politics.

No stranger to Michigan’s Center Stage, Ford spoke with the Detroiter before this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference, where he will again be appearing — this time on the political climate of the nation ahead of the upcoming presidential election.

What is the most relevant issue facing American politics today that didn’t exist 25 years ago?

I think that the one thing that threatens the fabric of the country more than anything today is the uneven distribution of wealth. I see Democratic candidates always talk about it, but it’s truly a serious issue. I’m really not sure how we sustain a society that has such a disparity. I think we’re not doing enough in the short term or immediate term. We’re not doing enough in the schools. Investments need to be made, and they aren’t happening fast enough.

What does Donald Trump’s success mean for the two-party system?

His success is going to change it; he is not a typical Republican or conservative. Early in his campaign he took on the feelings and sentiments of Fox News and super PACs. I think that many people support him because he’s the voice of many who think that  things are wrong with what is going on in American politics.

Regardless of (whether) he is worth $5 million or $10 million, he’s worth more than the average American family, so people are looking to him as someone who can get things done. Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” is really something many Americans can relate to, and I can’t blame them. I think Trump’s success should put to bed naysayers of the notion that the two-party system is weak.

How must American politics progress to engage the millennial generation as they age?

I differ with the proposition. I think that millennials are like any other group of people. You must closely look at them and see how to engage. I think that if you look at the last three cycles — led by Obama and others — millennials were really active. President Obama’s presidential bids showed that he was new and fresh and that people really wanted something different. He wrapped his campaign with technology in regard to raising money and getting his message to the masses.

Even though I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter, there’s a tremendous amount of millennial energy around the Bernie Sanders campaign. I think like with any group, you have to speak to what they care most about. Oftentimes, people discredit millennials’ position on issues as being too extreme and unrealistic, but I think we have to aim extremely high and make our leaders continue to think bolder and bigger to deliver results.

What do you think of the media’s role in the presidential election thus far?

The press focuses so much time on each candidate that sometimes it makes the race feel like forever. We’re just getting into voting, but so much has been covered that it makes the voter disinterested and fall in and out of the race. I hope as we get closer (to the election) the real issues take main stage, whether that is taxes or education.

What will be the legacy of President Obama years from now compared to when he departs office?

I think that the biggest thing in regards to his legacy is what the Affordable Care Act will look like in four or five years. I think the momentum won’t subside, but instead increase as we get smarter and make the cost of care cheaper and more affordable. In recent days, we’ve seen big health providers withdraw from certain parts of the Act. I think the president will be looked upon favorably in terms of health care because he was aggressive in pushing it and helping stabilize coverage for the nation. In four or five years, we’ll see how the deal with the  Iranians really panned out, as well. Those two things really stand out to me in terms of his legacy.

What is your take on the federal government’s role (e.g., EPA and congressional hearings) and response in the Flint water crisis?

What happened in Flint is an inexcusable abomination. I think the bulk of responsibility rests with state officials and leaders. I think that if the state reached out to the EPA and others and didn’t get responses, then they too should be held responsible. I think that if you were in a community with higher income and more affluent jobs, we would have found and seen a different response to such a tragedy. I think that class is a large reason as to why it happened. I think, ultimately, the accountability and responsibility rest with the state officials first and foremost.

Daniel A. Washington is a marketing and communications coordinator at the Detroit Regional Chamber.