Feb 27, 2009

The Murphy and Ford comedy duo wow the crowd at fundraising dinner for MPLP

LIVONIA -- Republican political media consultant Mike Murphy and former Tennessee Democratic U.S. Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. charmed and entertained the audience of political standouts Thursday night at the 14th Annual Fundraising Dinner for the Michigan Political Leadership Program (MPLP) at Michigan State University.

Since 1992, the nonpartisan MPLP recruits, trains, and inspires 24 unique leaders from across the state every year to prepare them for effective governance. The unique 10-month weekend program incorporates practical politics, public policy analysis and process, personal leadership development and effective governance. More than 400 MPLP graduates have put the skills and relationships acquired through the program to work in their communities as candidates for office, as government officials or as citizen activists. Some of state’s most effective and dynamic leaders have graduated from the program, such as Ed Clemente, Craig DeRoche, Robert Dean and Ken Cockrel, Jr.

Murphy and Ford shared their views on everything from the state of their respective parties, the past election and the economic stimulus, and they also answered questions from the audience.

Murphy is a native Detroiter, and one of the GOP’s most successful media consultants. He has advised such nationally prominent Republicans as John McCain, Jeb Bush, former Governor John Engler, Tommy Thompson, Spencer Abraham, Christie Whitman, Lamar Alexander, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He now lives in Los Angeles, and he is a regular political commentator for NBC/MSNBC, often appearing with Ford. The conservative Murphy gained even more notoriety during the Presidential campaign when Murphy was recorded making unkind comments about GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin during an NBC appearance unaware that his microphone was still live.

His funny stories and one-liners were a big hit with the crowd, as was his honest but fumy assessment of his party’s current status. He said if the GOP does not modernize and court the growing minority population it will become irrelevant in the future.

“Ronald Regan would have barely won in 1980 with the demographics of today,” he said. We have to modernize.”

Ford served 10 years in the House after being elected to the seat his father held prior to his election when he was just 26 years-old. He is a fiscally conservative, Blue Dog Democrat. He has Michigan ties, graduating from the University of Michigan Law School. In fact, he was in his last semester at Michigan when he ran for Congress. Ford arranged his schedule for his last semester of law school so he would not have Monday or Friday classes, and he would be able to fly to Tennessee for an extended weekend to campaign.

He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006, and he was nudged out by anti-Michigan and anti-U.S. automotive Republican Bob Corker. Ford was ahead in the polls, but the Tennessee GOP ran a racist ad against Ford that helped Corker pull ahead. The TV ad featured a white woman, played by an actress, talk about meeting Ford, who was unmarried at the time, at "the Playboy party."

Like the majority of Americans, Ford said he was proud of President Obama's victory, and both Murphy and Ford said it reflected well on America.

"If you had told me a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks that a man named Barack Hussein Obama would be elected president in 2008 I would have told them they were nuts," Ford said. "This country has a wonderful way of renewing itself."

Murphy said after years of smug Europeans criticizing this country's race relations, the win was gratifying for him.

"I get to tell the French and European politicians to sit down and shut up," he said.

Murphy said the results of the 2008 election really helped Obama with control of both Houses of Congress and a clear mandate.

"He is coming in with more power than any president in generations," he said.

Murphy said that obviously did not bode well for Republicans. He said Obama has so much power many Republicans have taken the strategy to just vote against him and hope things go bad. He drew big laughs with his analogy of that strategy.

"We're like eunuchs invited to a party at the Playboy mansion," he said. "We sit around and complain, and we offer detailed instructions, but it's not our party."

Murphy said that going into any national election it's important to know the mood of the country. Pollsters try to find out the mood of the country, and they ask people if they think the country is on the right or wrong track. If they say it's on the right track, TV ads are full of images of flags, dogs, kids playing and happy families, and the ads are void of any issues. But he said this campaign showed 85 percent of the voters thought the country was on the wrong track, and they were ready for change.

"This past election had the largest wrong tack numbers ever," he said.

Both men believe the economic stimulus package was necessary, but they have different views of it.

"We had to do a stimulus, but it's a sloppy one," Murphy said. "I also don't see any sacrifice from Democrats and labor leaders, and this thing is just happening too fast."

Ford was upset that some governors are trying to make political points by turning down the unemployment insurance part of the stimulus package.

"If you are doing it to make a political point to further your political career at the expense at people who are hurting the most then shame on you, and I hope you can look yourself in the mirror," he said.

The MPLP is a 10-month curriculum that includes personal leadership development, public policy process and analysis, effective governance and practical politics. Fellows develop personal skills, such as public speaking and team leadership. Bipartisan instructors and presenters from across Michigan representing both the private and public sector teach the rigorous curriculum.

"You can be a fierce partisan, but your political opponent is not your enemy," Murphy said.

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