Democratic candidates like Jack Conway and Andrew Beshear running for state offices would do well to emulate a straight-talking, impassioned national-level candidate who is drawing large crowds and focusing on real public issues. I am not talking about Donald Trump. I'm pointing to Bernie Sanders.
As Republicans nationally reserve their slings and arrows at each other when they are not pillorying President Obama, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has stood out as someone who has refused to get into a mud-slinging contest with his major Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Instead, he has sought to revive the staples of the New Deal Democratic agenda and update those traditional issues and priorities to take into account their newest expressions affecting all Americans today.
Candidates like Conway and Beshear would do well to follow Sanders' example. Kentucky Republican contenders in the gubernatorial and attorney general races are still operating according to the playbook that tromped Alice Lundergan Grimes in last year's Senate race.
Simply put, they are continuing to try to run against Barack Obama by associating Conway and Beshear, rightly or wrongly, with political stances and policies attributed to the sitting President.
What state Democrats fail to realize is that by drifting to the right and compromising traditional Democratic positions, they lend credence to those exaggerated claims and flat-out falsehoods being spewed forth on 30-second commercials and stump speeches by Republicans.
The Steve Beshear administration, to its credit, crafted a state program, Kynect, that is the envy of many other states, having enrolled during the 2014 fiscal year almost 311,000 newly eligible residents to the Affordable Care Act.
Yet, Whitney Westerfield, Andrew Beshear's Republican challenger, continues to tear down "Obamacare" in the same breath as he criticizes Steve Beshear for supposedly cozying up politically to President Obama. Sadly, Jack Conway's waffling on Kynect and Medicaid expansion in Kentucky simply takes a page from the book of Lundergan Grimes' failed campaign approach. In the process, Conway raises doubts about a program that is clearly benefitting elements of Democrats' natural constituency.
Weak-kneed Democrats forget that when Barack Obama has periodically presented himself as a populist president and appealed to Democratic bread-and-butter issues, his popularity ratings have gone up. Sanders' campaign has ignited wide interest and enthusiasm precisely because he has striven to expand the scope of policy initiatives and reforms relating to health care, higher education, wage equality, wealth concentration, and environmental repair that large numbers of past or potential Democratic Party supporters want to hear. Why? Because in a nation rapidly being taken over by plutocrats and failing to take the lead on climate change, many Americans are seeing the New Deal safety net being shredded and wondering if their children will be able to get a leg up.
These people thirst for hope and seek a better future for this new generation and the next.
Kentucky remains a poor state with diminishing natural resources. Allowing Republicans to frame the issues, define the role of government, and appeal to the mythical market-god only gives them a decided edge at the polls and enhances the chances that Matt Bevin and Whitney Westerfield will succeed in selling their snake oil to Kentucky inhabitants, who, as a result, will become poorer, less healthy, less well educated and lead more miserable lives as social policy is beggared and wealth flows to the top one percent.
The time is now and the place is here for Democrats to wake up to their origins, expand their policy vision, and find a fighting spirit and a passionate and compassionate voice. Nothing less will do. Nothing less will save them from the dustbin of Democratic politics.