Berry Craig: Some thoughts to warm Democrats as our winter of discontent approaches

berry-craig-mugshot-for-pam-plattKevin Wheatley of cn2 reported that Kentucky Democratic Party bigwigs did “a lot of soul-searching” at their election post-mortem in Frankfort Saturday.

Time will tell if the KDP Executive Committee and other party leaders find anything that might dull the Bluegrass State’s brighter-than-ever Republican Red hue.

Like most Kentuckians who belong to a union, I’m a Democrat. I’ve never missed an election since my first one in 1968, when I voted for Hubert H. Humphrey for president. I voted for every Democratic White House hopeful since, right through to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I’ve never voted for a Republican at any level. Yep, I’m one of a vanishing breed in the Bluegrass State: a “yellow dog” Democrat.

I was born, reared and still live in Mayfield, about as far west as Kentucky goes. I belong to another endangered species: my politics lean decidedly left.

I am not a party insider; almost none of the party brass know me from Adam. I’m as far from KDP leadership as Mayfield is from Frankfort—261.4 miles, according to Google. But nobody is rooting harder for a Democratic comeback in Frankfort and Washington than I am.

Meanwhile, here’s a quote that might make KDP HQ a little less gloomy as the days shorten and the winter of our discontent approaches: “It is just at this point, when things look darkest for the Democrats, that you can count on the Republicans to do something that will save the day–that is, it will save the day for us.”

President Harry S. Truman said that in a speech in 1948, the year he was elected to his own term.

Anyway, I’m ready to wager that a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump will be sorry by the time the red buds bloom in Kentucky. I’m betting King Leer will prove to be the colossal fraud we tried to warn John and Jane Q Citizen that he is.

The country just might be awash in a tsunami of buyer’s remorse. Some of the flood might even inundate Kentucky, which he of the Tang-hued mane won “bigly.”

Besides smashing unions, Gov. Matt Bevin, Kentucky’s Trump, and his right-wing Republican legislature are all set to take a meat axe to public education and turn state government from a watchdog on behalf of workers, consumers and the environment, into a lapdog for polluters, sharpies and other well-heeled folks of “the public be damned” persuasion.

Kentuckians might not take kindly to any of that.

Anyway, HST also mused that “the Republicans think they have been so successful with their campaign of smears and character assassination that they have the Democrats on the run.”

Here’s where it really starts to get good: “We are getting a lot of suggestions to the effect that we ought to water down our platform and abandon parts of our program. These, my friends, are Trojan horse suggestions. I have been in politics for over 30 years, and I know what I am talking about, and I believe I know something about the business. One thing I am sure of: never, never throw away a winning program. This is so elementary that I suspect the people handing out this advice are not really well-wishers of the Democratic Party.”

Give ‘em Hell Harry was really on a roll: “Now, we can always rely on the Republicans to help us in an election year, but we can’t count on them to do the whole job for us. We have got to go out and do some of it ourselves, if we expect to win. The first rule in my book is that we have to stick by the liberal principles of the Democratic Party. We are not going to get anywhere by trimming or appeasing. And we don’t need to try it.”

He warned: “I’ve seen it happen time after time. When the Democratic candidate allows himself to be put on the defensive and starts apologizing for the New Deal and the Fair Deal, and says he really doesn’t believe in them, he is sure to lose. The people don’t want a phony Democrat. If it’s a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don’t want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign. [Italics mine].

No doubt if Truman were alive, he would take Trump to task for shamefully pandering to prejudice: racism, sexism, misogyny, nativism and religious bigotry. “There is another thing we must stand firm on,” Truman said. “That is our pledge on the issue of civil rights. No citizen of this great country ought to be discriminated against because of his race, religion, or national origin. That is the essence of the American ideal and the American Constitution.”

So here’s this rank-and-filer’s plea to the KDP powers-that-be: It’s time to resurrect the party of FDR, HST and Lyndon B. Johnson–and Alben Barkley, Carl Perkins, Ned Breathitt and Wilson Wyatt.

Okay, charge me with living in the past. I am a retired community college history prof who writes books about Kentucky history.

But I’m ready for the KDP to return to its liberal–there, I said it–roots.

I’m ready for the leaders of my party to shout from the rooftops that nothing has done more for working stiffs and the least among us than activist social democratic government — as mirrored in FDR’s New Deal, HST’s Fair Deal and LBJ’s Great Society—in tandem with strong, free trade unions.

It’s time for Democrats to brag on Democratic successes like:

–Social Security and Medicare. GOP claims that they’re going broke are baloney and just an excuse to privatize or get rid of both programs, which most Republicans have fought tooth-and-nail all along.

— laws that guarantee workers the right to have a union, that establish a minimum wage and that provide unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. The Republicans claimed all such was “creeping communism” and undermined the “free enterprise system”—meaning free of unions and of government stepping in to protect us from those FDR called “the malefactors of great wealth.”

— laws that mandate equal pay for equal work, protect the environment and protect worker safety and health on the job– more “radical” stuff, according to the GOP. (“What is right has always been called radical by those with a stake in what is wrong,” said an old McGovern for president poster of mine.)

— laws that prevent discrimination based on race, age, gender and sexual orientation. The Republicans long ago surrendered to the Democrats their historic role as the party of Lincoln, liberty and civil rights. The GOP is, especially in Kentucky and states farther south, what the Democrats in Dixie and the borderland used to be: mostly the white folks’ party.

In short, FDR, HST, LBJ, The Veep, Perkins, Breathitt and Wyatt were my kind of Democrats–Democrats who had faith in the notion that “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves.” The quote is often attributed to FDR, but Abraham Lincoln–he and FDR are my two favorite presidents–said it first.

Go ahead. Argue that Democrats who think like I do are unelectable beyond “liberal Louisville” and maybe parts of Lexington. (Jefferson and Fayette were the only counties that Clinton won.) But in Kentucky, Nov. 8 was more proof, as if proof were needed, that trying to out-Republican the Republicans, notably on the social issues, doesn’t work.

In another ’48 speech, Truman said,  “Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home — but not for housing. They are strong for labor — but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights. They favor a minimum wage — the smaller the minimum wage the better.

“They endorse educational opportunity for all — but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine — for people who can afford them.  They approve of Social Security benefits — so much so that they took them away from almost a million people….They consider electric power a great blessing — but only when the private power companies get their rake-off.

“They say TVA is wonderful — but we ought never to try it again….They think the American standard of living is a fine thing — so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.

“Now, my friends, that is the Wall Street Republican way of life. But there is another way — there is another way — the Democratic way, the way of the Democratic Party.”

in 2018, I’d love to hear more Kentucky Democrats sound more like the Man from Missouri on the stump from Sassafras Ridge to the banks of the Big Sandy and from Covington to the Black Jack Jog. Think it won’t fly outside the Falls City and the capital of the Big Blue Nation? Why not give it a try anyway? After all, where has Republican Lite gotten the Democrats in our state?

Berry Craig is the webmaster-editor for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, and also services on the state AFL-CIO Executive Board and serves as recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council. He is a charter member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360.


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