Seasoned students of Harold Ford Jr. know that it's often difficult to discern a specific theme from the public rhetoric of the current head of the right-center Democratic Leadership Council. A classic instance was the then Memphis congressman's speech to attendees at the 2005 banquet of the University of Memphis Law Alumni, when Ford seemed both to embrace and distance himself from the Iraq War strategy of George W. Bush.
Another example came this past week when Ford and MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews tangled over whether Ford was in fact aligning himself with former Vice President Dick Cheney's permissive attitude toward torture of "War on Terror" detainees. Matthews became irate as he perceived DLC head Ford to be justifying the Cheney policy, while Ford has since tried to explain he meant nothing of the kind.
Judge for yourself:
If video does not show, here is a relevant part of transcript of the Matthews-Ford encounter; it also features Chris Cillizza:
Chris Cillizza: There was a poll a week or two ago, an independent poll, a media poll that asked people whether what had gone on a Gitmo was torture and by a large majority people said yes. The next question was did they think that those techniques would be necessary in certain circumstances and a slimmer, but still more people said yes than no so you have this weird disconnect. People do think it is torture, but they feel like if it yeilds results that it's the right thing to do, so this is tough especially as it relates to the Democratic Party base which clearly believes that this is something that is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Matthews: (to Harold Ford) ... You seem to be suggesting you can't be both tough as nails and at the same time looks as if you worry about human rights violations. Is that a problem or not?
Harold Ford: No I ... Eric Holder said this best when referring to the Ted Stevens case in the aftermath when they said they wouldn't move forward when they said the United States would not move forward. He said the most important thing in the justice department is not winning, it is justice.
So, in this sense, I think having the conversation about what happened at Guantanamo Bay, and I'm not as outraged as some about it, because I think some of those techniques were enhanced and might have risen to a level of torture, you have to remember when this was occurring, this was 2002 and 2003. The country was in a different place and a different space and if you were to say to me as an American, put aside my partisanship, that we have an opportunity to gain information that would prevent the destruction of an American city to prevent killings in an American city, and we have to use certain techniques, I'm one of those Americans who would have voted acertain way Chris in that polling that said it might have been torture, but I'm not as outraged.
Matthews: wait, wait. You are veering into Cheney country here.
Ford: no, no, no
Matthews: ... the destruction of an American city? What evidence did you ever have that the enemy had a nuclear weapon that could blow up an American city? That's Cheney talk. That's what he uses to justify torture. We have no evidence that any enemy of ours had a nuclear weapon.
Ford: No, no. I said if thousands of people in America ... we can play the game of associating me with one person or another. I'm just saying ..
Matthews: No but you said blow up an American city. What are you talking about?
Ford: In 2002, 2003, remember where America was. You remember our mindset. If the American people were told that there were those that might have been held at Guantanamo Bay that might have had information, after our country was attacked on 9/11, I'm certain that people would have wanted them to take those, take certain steps. I'm not arguing at all that there was evidence that that would have happened, yet Cheney has said that he hopes that all the data is released and then maybe we'll have an opportunity to see that.