A pair of stars from the MSNBC media firmament mocked former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear as the Democrats’ first responder to President Donald Trump’s speech to Congress.
One of the Bluegrass State’s youngest Democratic Party officials is not amused. Neither is this senior citizen Democrat and lifelong Kentuckian.
“Instead of listening to the content of his message, they focused on the superficial,” said Daniel Hurt, 23, a member of the state party’s executive committee.
Beshear spoke from a Lexington diner surrounded by locals who MSNBC analyst Steve Schmidt, a Republican, laughed off as “hostages.” He said they looked like “the cast from Westworld.”
Maddow laughed as well. The Rachel Maddow Show host called the spectators “mannequins.”
Hurt, who also chairs the Livingston County Democratic committee, said he enjoys political humor. So do I; I wrote a book called True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo.
But Hurt, who happens to be one of my brightest former students, found Schmidt and Maddow’s wisecracks condescending and patronizing. So did I.
“The people who were there—Beshear called them ‘some neighbors--Democrats and Republicans’—didn’t have to be there,” Hurt pointed out. “They came to show support for their former governor.”
Beshear has lived and worked in the heart of the state’s central Bluegrass region. Hurt is from Grand Rivers in far western Kentucky, my neck of the woods, too.
"The Democratic Party is at its lowest point of power in this country since the 1920s, and the Democratic response was made by a 72-year-old retired two-term governor from Kentucky, not by Kamala Harris, not by Kirsten Gillibrand, not by the Castro brothers, not by anyone who has a future in the actual Democratic Party," tut-tutted Schmidt, a frequent Trump critic.
Hurt and his old prof are big fans of Sens. Harris and Gillibrand and of the Castro siblings (and usually Maddow). Julián Castro brought down the house with his keynote speech at last year’s Sen. Wendell H. Ford Dinner, which the Kentucky Democratic Party sponsors annually.
Hurt suspects national Democratic leaders went with Beshear because he started Kynect, one of the country’s best state health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
While the ACA was Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, Beshear is justifiably proud of Kynect.
Anyway, Hurt doubts the president’s address, which was mostly free of his stock spleen and usual umbrage, means a kinder, gentler Trump is on the way.
“Stay tuned for another social media episode of the Trump White House reality show” with the president’s customary venom and vitriol, he predicted.
One of Trump’s chief cheerleaders in Kentucky is Gov. Matt Bevin. The tea party Republican who succeeded Beshear in 2015 campaigned against Kynect and ended the program.
Beshear started “Save Kentucky Healthcare,” an effort “committed to continuing Kentucky’s dramatic success in expanding health insurance under the Affordable Care Act,” according to the campaign’s website.
The ACA has been the GOP’s chief object of disaffection since the program started in 2010.
In his remarks, Beshear called out Trump: “You and your Republican allies in Congress seem determined to rip affordable health insurance away from millions of Americans who most need it.”
After agreeing that the ACA needs “some repairs,” Beshear again schooled Trump: “… So far, every Republican idea to replace the Affordable Care Act would reduce the number of Americans covered, despite your promises to the contrary.”
Beshear warned the president and his party: “ ...This isn’t a game, it’s life and death for people. These ideas promise access to care, but deny the importance of making care affordable and effective. They would charge families more for fewer benefits and put the insurance companies back in control.”
The ex-governor argued that “Republican proposals to replace the ACA would get rid of many of the benefits that companies must offer under the law. That could help reduce premiums for those who would like to buy a more stripped-down insurance policy.
“However, the Republican plan replaces the Obamacare subsidies to buy insurance and cost-sharing allowances to offset co-payments with a tax credit that is likely less generous, so people could pay more for health care even if they have lower premiums.”
From start to finish, Beshear refused to pull punches. He declared that GOP plans to abolish the ACA are rooted in the notion “that folks at the lower end of the economic ladder just don't deserve health care. That it is somehow their fault that their employer doesn't offer insurance or that they can't afford to buy expensive health plans.”
He reminded the president that “these 22 million Americans, including 500,000 people right here in Kentucky, who now have health care that didn't have it before” aren’t “aliens from some distant planet. They are our friends and neighbors.”
They’re not prisoners, department store dummies or make-believe movie or TV robots, either.
Berry Craig is the webmaster-editor for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, a member of the Graves County Democratic Executive Committee and a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah.