I try to make it a habit not to hate too much on the rebuttal to any president’s joint session or State of the Union address. It’s a nearly impossible task to come on right after the pomp and circumstance of the full chamber and tepidly voice the opposition’s concerns. Quirks as varied as a wandering eyebrow, a sing-song voice, or a (gasp!) sip of water have been the downfall of many a good politician in this unenviable position.
Perhaps that’s the reason the Democratic Party couldn’t manage to find anyone more promising than a septuagenarian former governor of Kentucky to take on the task. Luckily, in keeping with my habit, I need not even venture into the substance of former Gov. Steve Beshear’s speech to diagnose the problems with the Democratic Party. I need only examine the selection of Beshear.
Beshear giving the speech is in itself an admission of failure. You know who’s not giving the speech? The young, promising, telegenic former Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who was the presumptive heir to Beshear’s office until he was defeated by double digits by Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin.
Conway lost 53-44. Why? Conway, led by his national party and the short-and-sweet high of President Obama’s ascendancy, backed cap-and-trade in a coal state. He was caught between social justice warriors and Kentucky voters on Kim Davis.
Meanwhile, Beshear was busy implementing Obamacare and Medicaid expansion. To be fair, he did it more competently than the federal Heathcare.gov, and rebranded it KYnect. His Obamacare implementation is why Beshear was chosen to do the rebuttal Tuesday. With Obamacare on the chopping block, Democrats desperately wanted to feature a rural, red-state success story for the ailing health-care law. Polling for Medicaid expansion and KYnect (the Kentucky exchange) is not as terrible as it is elsewhere, which is not saying much. But it also can’t be ignored that the state elected Bevin, who ran on dismantling the whole thing.
Just to make this tale a bit more of a microcosm of Democratic problems, the Medicaid expansion and Obamacare implementation— for which Beshear is so lauded that he was given this position as the spokesperson for the party— is quite fragile. Why? He did it by executive order, making it easily dismantled once an anti-Obamacare Republican was elected.
The Republican Party still faces political landmines in its tricky repeal-and-replace plan. But on Tuesday, a septuagenarian former Kentucky governor with a folksy demeanor was simultaneously a laudable recognition by the Democratic Party of who it needs to reach and a devastating admission of how ill-equipped they are to do so. The future’s so bright, they gotta wear bifocals.