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JOAN VENNOCHI

Kentucky photo-op won’t cut it for Democratic comeback

Former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear, pictured in this Aug. 1, 2015 file photo, delivered the Democratic Party’s official response to President Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday night.
Former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear, pictured in this Aug. 1, 2015 file photo, delivered the Democratic Party’s official response to President Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

It’s going to be a long eight years if Democrats really believe the path to redemption runs through that diner where former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear delivered the party’s official response to President Trump.

Get it? An aging white guy addresses the nation from a humble eatery in Lexington, Ky. He tells us he’s the grandson of Baptist preachers, the son of funeral home workers, and by the way, has been married more than 50 years. Note: He’s not drinking craft beer in a funky urban bistro. He’s not surrounded by a diverse, fun-loving crowd, just by other somber white people.

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Democrats apparently believe that using characters like that as props is the way to win over a demographic they lost in November. It’s not. But don’t blame Beshear for that kind of simplistic, focus-group thinking. Blame the party that enlisted him.

Other than stumbling over whether he’s a proud Democrat versus a proud Republican, Beshear’s speech wasn’t terrible. Of course, like most people, I didn’t watch it all the way through. To escape the awkwardness of the moment, I switched to HGTV. But after reading the transcript the next day, it sounds like Beshear made some decent points against Trump. He mentioned the rollback of regulations, the cabinet of billionaires and Wall Street insiders, the importance of health care accessibility, and the needless attack on immigrants, and he called for adherence to basic American values of “dignity, compassion, honesty, and accountability.”

These are all valid arguments against Trump’s vision. But they won’t turn Trump voters against Trump — not until those voters suffer harm from their hero’s policies. Deconstruction will take time. As the Trump administration pushes forward on it, Democrats should forget the staged events and really try to understand why they lost the White House to a reality TV star.

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In his rebuttal speech, Beshear said, “We Democrats are committed to creating the opportunity for every American to succeed by growing our economy with good-paying jobs, educating and training our people to fill those jobs, giving our businesses the freedom to innovate, keeping our country safe, and providing health care that families can afford and rely on.”

People on the coasts may believe that. The ones who live in between Washington, D.C., and San Francisco do not.

Beshear also said, “Our political system is broken. It’s broken because too many of our leaders think it’s all about them. They need to remember that they work for us and helping is their work.”

For now, that broken political system is in Trump’s hands, because enough people in certain parts of the country believed he, not Hillary Clinton, could fix it.

Democrats have to accept that reality. Instead of preaching to the choir, they have to start listening to the disaffected. A photo-op in a Kentucky diner doesn’t change the basic credibility problem Democrats have on a fundamental issue: the economic survival of the non-elites. Until they fix that problem, it’s Trump’s America.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.