Get ready for the Republicans to reprise the Three Gs: “God, guns, and gays.”

After this session of the legislature, pandering on the social issues is about all the GOP has left to trot out on the campaign trail. But the scam is a proven winner in Bible Belt Kentucky beyond “liberal” Louisville and Lexington.

Thousands of teachers, public employees, union members and others have thronged the Capitol to protest Republican pension, budget and tax bills.

Most of their ire has been focused on the pension legislation, which Lexington Herald-Leader scribe Tom Eblen cited as additional evidence “that America is becoming an oligarchy, funded by wealthy business interests and dutifully administered by the Republican Party using any means necessary.”

'America is becoming an oligarchy, funded by wealthy business interests and dutifully administered by the Republican Party using any means necessary.' – Tom EblenClick To Tweet

He nailed the GOP’s pet legislation as “part of a national right-wing movement to sabotage and outsource government, weaken the middle class, abandon the poor, and replace public education with for-profit schools.”

Even so, the Republicans are banking on social issues yet again to trump all other issues on election day in rural and small-town Kentucky.  

Doubtless, protesters rattled GOP lawmakers who rule the roost in the House and Senate. Some reportedly skedaddled from the Capitol with a state police escort.

Nonetheless, the votes of more than a few working stiffs—including teachers, other public employees, and union members—helped put Gov. Matt Bevin and the Republicans in command in Frankfort.

That’s ditto for the Donald and the GOP in DC.

While Trump’s popularity is sagging in most national polls, a 50-state Gallup survey in January showed that 51 percent of Kentuckians think he’s doing a good job and only 45 percent don’t. The president fared better in only eight other states.

Meanwhile, Bevin and GOP lawmakers are counting on the Frankfort protests—historically huge as they’ve been—to be mere “sound and fury, signifying nothing” by November 6, election day.

Borrowing from The Bard again, herein “lies the rub:” The demonstrations will mean nothing if they don’t translate into Democratic ballots.

The huge demonstrations in Frankfort this spring will mean nothing if they don't translate to Democratic votes in the fall.Click To Tweet

“Unless we all vote, individuals incapable of leadership will be in charge,” warned Mary Nishimuta, state Democratic party executive director in a fund-raising email. “Change only happens when you take action.”

“Unless we all vote, individuals incapable of leadership will be in charge. Change only happens when you take action.”
– Mary Nishimuta

Democrat Daniel Hurt is clued in, too. “The protesters exercised their First Amendment right to assemble and made their voices heard,” said the Grand Rivers resident who, at age 25, is one of the youngest members of the state party executive committee. “But they must also exercise their constitutional right to vote by showing up on election day, and I think they will.”

Enter: Buick Guy

Republicans are banking that voters like Buick Guy far outnumber angry teachers, other public employees, and their union allies.   

I haven’t seen Buick Guy for about four years. He drove a vintage Skylark whose body was maybe a quarter black primer and the rest less-than-shiny paint of the same hue. The car was missing a couple of hubcaps.

A Romney-Ryan sticker, a little ragged around the edges, clung resolutely on the Buick’s back bumper. A chrome Christian fish ornament swam toward to the license plate. 

Based on his wheels, Buick Guy is what the Good Book calls “the least among us.” Yet he voted for millionaire Mitt Romney and was evidently still proud he did.

If he’s still around, I suspect he still votes Republican, most likely on the Three Gs. 

Buick guy lives, or lived, in a public housing project in Mayfield, the town where I was born, reared, and reside.   

Most Republicans aren’t big fans of government-subsidized housing or anything else that helps Buick Guys.

I’m 68. Buick Guy seemed to be a tad older than I am. So he’s probably on Social Security and Medicare and maybe even Medicaid. All three are liberal Democratic programs that conservative Republicans don’t fancy.

If Buick Guy ever worked at a good job, odds are it was a union job. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and liberal New Deal Democrats passed landmark legislation that guaranteed unions the basic right to organize and bargain collectively for better wages, hours, and benefits.

Conservative Republicans still despise unions. Last year, the GOP legislature, cheered on by Bevin, passed a “right to work” law and repealed the prevailing wage, both at warp speed.

This year, teachers and other public employees had the targets on their backs. (The Republicans didn’t forget unions—they went after workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, programs that benefit all workers, not just those of us who pack union cards.)

Anyway, the Republicans are gearing up to stump the state from Sassafras Ridge to Stopover, fishing for votes with the Three Gs social issues sucker bait.

They’ll burnish their conservative Christian creds. They’ll imply that ”GOP” stands for “God’s Own Party.”

They’ll claim the Democrats aim to snatch everybody’s guns.

They’ll charge that Dems who support a woman’s right to choose and LGBT rights are destroying the country. The old Southern, conservative, and white supremacist Democrats—the spiritual forebears of the almost all-white Dixie GOP—said the same thing about integration.

The GOP con job has worked for going on 50 years, starting with Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and running right up to Trump, the Yankee George Wallace who panders to the worst elements in the body politic: racism, sexism, misogyny, nativism, xenophobia, homophobia, and religious bigotry.

He carried all but two of Kentucky’s 120 counties—Jefferson (Louisville) and Fayette (Lexington)—and collected 62.5 percent of the vote. The Trump tsunami swept in the first GOP House majority since 1921.

Hence, Republicans in Kentucky—and in other Red States—will stick with their social issues smoke screen. It has worked well as a ruse to mask their economic policies that are coldly calculated to make the rich richer and leave Buick Guys barely making ends meet, living in public housing and driving old cars.

Of course, the well-heeled GOP bigwigs just want Buick Guys to vote Republican. They don’t want them coming to dinner at the mansion or to the country club for a round of golf.

Of course, the well-heeled GOP bigwigs just want Buick Guys to vote Republican. They don't want them coming to dinner at the mansion or to the country club for a round of golf.Click To Tweet

You’d think that convincing working stiffs to vote against their own economic interests would be mission impossible. But Buick Guy is more proof, as if more proof were needed, that it’s been mission accomplished for the GOP in Kentucky and elsewhere for almost half a century.

If the Democrats want to take back the House this fall, and make gains in the Senate, they have to figure out a way to reach the Buick Guys across the state.

 

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– Buick picture from David B. Gleason on Flickr

 

Berry Craig
Berry Craig of Mayfield is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community College in Paducah and an author of five books on the Civil War in Kentucky. The last one, published by the University Press of Kentucky, is Kentucky’s Rebel Press: Pro-Confederate Media in the Civil War. His critically-acclaimed Kentucky Confederates: Secession, Civil War, and the Jackson Purchase, also from the University Press, has been reprinted in paperback.