Look. I have nothing against Steve Beshear. I have a lot of Louisvillian friends who vouch for him as Not Bad. He's about what one can hope for in the category of Democratic Governor in Red State. Additionally, the Democratic response to Tuesday evening's presidential address won't amount to a pile of dust in the long run. Content-wise it likely left an impression on exactly no one. It was, in that sense, Fine.
It was also a good example of everything wrong with the leadership of the Democratic Party.
Leave aside the terrible message it sends to have a 72 year old ex-elected official in effective retirement in a spot of high, albeit temporary, visibility. Leave aside how awful an impression it creates to include the phrase "I am a Republican" in the first 15 seconds. Consider the setup, conceptually, for what the people responsible for this were trying to do here and you'll see directly to the heart of the problem with Democrats.
With a party at low ebb after losing a presidential election to a joke candidate using a nominee nobody seemed to like all that much and a running mate whose name the country forgot even before the election, you might expect strategists to focus on the most obvious problem: If you can't fire up your base, you're not going to win elections. Republicans are forever hurling red meat at their base – 50 Obamacare repeals that had no chance of passing, 35 Benghazi hearings, etc. – even though they know those measures are futile. They do it because they recognize that if all else fails, they will at least get their core group of voters behind them solidly.
The Beshear thing is evidence of how deeply cynical and unmoored the Democratic Party is right now. The visual of a 72 year old white guy in a creepy diner surrounded by other old white people is exactly, precisely, to the last detail, what some Beltway or New York-San Francisco based consultant would think is going to appeal to the revered White Working Class. This is what someone who has no contact with Normal People thinks Normal People are like. This is cringe-inducing in the same way as the dialogue for black characters in TV shows aimed at (and written by) white people often is.
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It is at its core a caricature. It is a thing people look at and think, This is some asshole from Harvard's impression of what those dirty people he flies over will like. I'm stunned they didn't have Beshear wear a NASCAR hat and pound a Bud Light.
The insistence that they can "win back" the White Working Class is delusional to begin with, but they extra-certainly will never win them back with transparent cornball shit like this. This isn't outreach; this is pandering. And the most offensive part is that it isn't even good pandering. It's as convincing as John Wayne playing Genghis Khan. This was embarrassing to watch in the same way that is true of messages aimed at kids and written by adults according to their incomplete and outdated sense of what The Kids These Days are into.
I'm not saying the Democratic Party's path to success lies with some sort of hard lurch to the far left, embracing communism and waving a hammer and sickle. What seems very obvious to everyone except the holdover New Democrat people from the 90s who are still in charge is that whatever success the party will achieve will come from reaching out to and motivating the voters who find the GOP terrifying. Women. Young people. Gays and Lesbians. African-Americans. Hispanics. The highly educated. People in big cities. Non-Evangelicals. But for some insane reason they insist that the winning strategy is to find some way to peel away the same voters who clearly and strongly prefer Republicans – and worse, to do it by play-acting a six-figure strategist's impression of economically depressed white people, as though speaking with a little drawl and sitting in a folksy diner is going to convince some pissed off ex-coal miner that he loves the Democrats after all.
It is time to come to grips with the fact that the appeal Democrats had to rural whites is something that died many decades ago. It was already running out of steam by the time Reagan came around, and that was nearly 40 goddamn years ago. Let it go. Low-income rural whites are a rapidly shrinking part of the population. Trump may be their last gasp before they start dying in droves because Republicans rely so heavily on the elderly. Move on. Do something, anything, to communicate the message to the actual, real Democratic base, "You are our priority. We care about you. We need you." Not the base as they might like it to be, full of hard-workin' blue collar white caricatures, but as it is.
The DNC keeps telling us that the future of the party will not be served by a lurch to the far left. Perhaps, perhaps not. We could hear arguments on either side of that. What is absolutely and undeniably certain, though, is that the future of the party is not old white men playing at Rustic Everyman and all but conceding defeat to the mighty forces of conservatism. For those who warn that trying to fire up a progressive base will create a McGovern scenario, I have news: that has already happened. Republicans control the White House, the Senate, the House for what may be an eternity, and 38 state legislatures (!!!). It is difficult to conceive of how much worse things could go if they tried something a little different. But instead they will comfort themselves with what they know and then wonder loudly why old white centrists failed to excite their most important voters.