Twenty years ago, my then-toddler nephew, like many of his contemporaries, was captivated by the Disney animated blockbuster The Lion King. Consequently, I watched that movie many more times than I ever would have of my own volition.
There was a particular scene for which I developed an affinity. In it, young Simba, the heir apparent to the proverbial kingship of the jungle — having reduced himself to eating bugs and living a carefree lifestyle — saw an image of his slain father, Mufasa. Simba heard Mufasa's voice, saying to him from the clouds, "You are more than what you have become."
Much the same today in Kentucky, we are better than our politics have become.
President Barack Obama has never been popular in Kentucky. And feelings about him have left us more polarized than we have been at any time, perhaps, since the Civil War. Oftentimes, this polarization has not been based on facts.
The Affordable Care Act, known by many as Obamacare, has helped more than 500,000 Kentuckians obtain health care coverage who did not have it before. Yet, according to a 2014 Gallup Poll, 56 percent of Kentuckians had a negative view of Obamacare, while only 22 percent had an unfavorable view of Kynect, the health care exchange used to execute the health care law in this state.
Also, Obama is blamed for the alleged "war on coal." However, according to Department of Labor statistics, 62 percent of Kentucky's coal jobs were lost from 1979 to 2007, a period that ended two years before the president took office. Conversely, few in our state have praised the president for his POWER+ plan to invest $1 billion in the transformation of the Appalachian economy.
Additionally, over the past seven years, we have witnessed Kentucky candidates for everything from state representative to U.S. senator run almost exclusively on a platform of "standing up to" and "fighting against" Obama. And practically never is an explanation given as to how standing up to the president will be executed or why fighting against him is so necessary.
Furthermore, it is difficult to comprehend how these messages still seem to work so well even though this year's successful candidates in statewide races will spend little more than a year in office before the end of Obama's second and final term.
How are these circumstances possible as we near the end of 2015?
Well, according to a 2014 piece by Jason Zengerle from Politico, an unnamed Kentucky GOP strategist admitted last year that "we are still a racist state." And he went on to say that "anything you can connect to Barack Obama is a winning thing for us."
Yet, jobs, health care, education and many other things will be at stake Tuesday. So, we cannot afford to elect our next governor, or any other candidate, based on their race or on the race of the president. Doing either would not be "a winning thing" for the commonwealth.
As a native Kentuckian, I have always been proud of our state motto: "United we stand, divided we fall." It speaks to the power of unity and the necessity of identifying common ground in order to work toward positive solutions.
But our understanding of this truth did not stop with the adoption of our state motto.
History has credited Lexington's U.S. Sen. Henry Clay, who came to be known as "The Great Compromiser," with doing more than anyone to hold the country together during the pre-Civil War era. Similarly, our most noted native son, President Abraham Lincoln, who went on to put a war-torn nation back together, agreed with the words of Jesus in Mark 3, when he declared that "a house divided against itself cannot stand."
So, let's rise above the division that has plagued us and stand together by making our collective decisions on Tuesday based on what is in our own best interest as the people of Kentucky.
We must do this because we are better than our politics have become.