A tale of two speeches Skip to content

A tale of two speeches

The contrast could not have been more striking: Cameron with smear after smear, and Beshear with accomplishment after accomplishment.

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Republican Attorney Gen. Daniel Cameron added a hefty helping of rhetorical red meat to the bill of fare at the Fancy Farm picnic.

In his stump speech, he claimed that Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, the guy whose job he wants, appeases “woke radicals” and cozies “with anti-Christian hate groups.” Beshear and First Lady Britainy Beshear are deacons at Beargrass Christian Church in Louisville.

Beshear followed Cameron to the podium and replied with kinder, gentler jabs. He spent much of his allotted time stressing his leadership in guiding Kentucky through catastrophic tornado and flood emergencies at opposite ends of the state. He also pointed to “record economic development right here in western Kentucky” and to “our lowest annual unemployment rate in in history.”

Beshear cited the biblical Golden Rule and the parable of the Good Samaritan. He called the governor's race a contest between “vision and division.”

He chided Cameron and the Republicans for “trying to pit us against each other, calling everybody names who disagrees with them, telling you its okay to yell at, even hate, your fellow Kentuckians.” The governor said he’s “ready to prove that’s a losing strategy in the commonwealth of Kentucky.”

The governor may be right, according to a recent New York Times story. Citing new polls, Jonathan Weisman wrote that at least among GOP primary voters, candidate “attacks on ‘wokeness’ may be losing their punch.”

At the same time, the Kentucky Republican slate might figure the thrice-indicted Donald Trump's popularity is slipping in the Bluegrass State. While Cameron loves to brag on his Trump endorsement, neither he nor any other Republican who spoke at Fancy Farm invoked Trump's name, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Joseph Gerth. (Instead, they stuck to the old standbys: dissembling and defaming Democrats.)

“Last year Cameron mentioned Trump when he spoke at Fancy Farm and joked that to get the endorsement, all he needed to do was promise Trump that his wife, Makenze Cameron, was not Mitch McConnell’s granddaughter,” Gerth wrote. “Four years ago, six of the Republican speakers at Fancy Farm mentioned Trump at least 11 times – with Sen. Mitch McConnell name-dropping him three times and Cameron noting Trump had endorsed him for attorney general. U.S. Rep. Jamie Comer called him ‘great.’”

Cameron also trotted out more race-baiting. “We need a governor who will stand up to the woke mob, not cheer them on.”

Historically, race-baiting politicians were conservative, white supremacist Southern Democrats of old, antecedents of a big chunk of the current almost all-white Dixie GOP. “The fact that he’s doing it as a Black man who should know the history of this type of rhetoric makes it even more grotesque,” said Murray State University historian Brian Clardy.

Democrats didn’t let Comer get away with not mentioning Breonna Taylor, a Black EMT Louisville police shot and killed in a bungled raid on her apartment in 2020.

“Say her name! Say her name!” they chanted.

"It’s not a secret that Cameron doesn’t take his role as a prosecutor seriously," Gerth also wrote. “He refused to allow the Jefferson County grand jury investigating the death of Breonna Taylor to consider charges against police officers who obtained the search warrant of her apartment, and then lied and then blamed it on the grand jurors.”

Clardy said Cameron “is a pragmatic panderer – he’s Black but he knows there is a nativist, racist streak within the Republican party.”

Clardy is also Black.

The professor is a liberal Democrat (who used to be a conservative Republican). Yet he’s hardly alone in doubting that Cameron’s stump speech — broadcast statewide on Kentucky Educational Television and is still up on YouTube — will win over many independents, swing voters, or Republicans who are less than gung-ho for Trump.

“People have seen the governor as a crisis leader during the COVID pandemic and in the aftermath of devastating tornadoes in western Kentucky and floods in eastern Kentucky,” Clardy said. “They also see him as playing a major role in the economic renaissance Kentucky is experiencing.”

To hear Cameron tell it, Beshear has helmed Kentucky into the direst of economic and spiritual straits. Too, the governor, the AG insisted, is an enemy of “true Kentucky values.” Translation: Republican and conservative Christian, if not Christian nationalist, values.

Cameron charged that during the COVID pandemic — the deadliest worldwide disease outbreak in a century — Beshear “locked the schools and threw open the jails [and] sent the state police after Christians on Easter Sunday.”

Beshear issued, and enforced, a temporary executive order in 2020 — when the pandemic showed no signs of abating — that closed businesses, schools, churches, and other public meeting places to help curb the spread of the highly contagious virus, thereby keeping Kentuckians out of the hospital and the cemetery.

“It’s my job to protect my family and friends, but I believe it’s all of our civic duty to protect our communities,” Beshear said about his order.

In other words, the governor said defeating COVID required shared sacrifice and unity for the common good, much as World War II-era Kentuckians sacrificed and pulled together on the home front to help defeat Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and imperial Japan.

No matter – Cameron, figuring to score points with his MAGA base, thwarted Beshear in court, arguing that the governor’s life-saving order trampled on Kentuckians’ constitutional rights.

At Fancy Farm, Cameron took multiple swipes at Beshear’s support for LGBTQ rights, calling him a liberal elitist who “has the audacity to lecture rural Kentuckians on right and wrong when he and Joe Biden can’t even tell the difference between a man and a woman.” Biden and Beshear “mock our faith, our families, and our values, and they try to cancel anyone who disagrees.”

Heaping the red meat higher, Cameron said, “the folks of Fancy Farm have one response, governor, try that in a small town,” a reference to the Jason Aldean song that is a not-so-thinly-veiled call for racist vigilantism.

Though Trump went unmentioned on the stump, some Cameron-boosters outside the pavilion waved a variety of large Trump flags including banners that proclaimed, “TRUMP WON, SAVE AMERICA” and “PRO-AMERICA, ANTI-BIDEN.”

“Trump still enjoys almost cultish support from a huge swath of the Republican rank and file,” Gerth also wrote. “With any luck, the fact that no one mentioned his name at Fancy Farm on Saturday means we’re seeing an end to some of the slavish devotion to Trump, who so casually lied about election fraud and schemed to steal the office of president.”

Maybe so. Though Trump carried Kentucky with better than 62 percent of the vote both times he ran and bagged every county save Jefferson (Louisville) and Fayette (Lexington), his popularity has slipped to 57 percent, a 17 point dip since he took office, according to the World Population Review. That’s a steeper drop than in every state that borders Kentucky except Illinois, the numbers say.

No matter, Clardy suspected that Cameron’s stump speech presaged his fall campaign. “It’s going to get uglier and uglier. He’s going to keep on bringing out those tired old MAGA talking points.”

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY

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