by Dr. Brian K. Clardy
A few days ago, a Republican colleague and friend mentioned that Senator Rand Paul and Congressman Jamie Comer would be addressing the local Lincoln-Reagan Dinner at Murray State University and it would be “great” if I attended. He had asked me about attending before, and each time, I politely declined.
But this time, this attempt at collegial bipartisan outreach felt different.
Congress was deliberating both President Biden’s infrastructure bill and the “human infrastructure” package proposed by Democratic progressives. There was an intractable stalemate, not only in the legislature, but apparently within the Democratic caucus itself.
The smoldering controversy over the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan was still a major talking point on conservative blogs and media. President Biden’s decision was being characterized as “irresponsible,” “dumb,” and “haphazard.” And those were the nicest phrases that they have used.
The politics of the pandemic still raged on as conspiracy theories about the vaccine and masks continued to float in the internet either.
And in Kentucky, Governor Beshear announced his re-election bid, thus kicking off the 2023 campaign season.
So, as I sat in my office, I wondered whether I should attend to hear what Republican leaders had to say.
First, I called my wife, while heading to Wal-Mart to get her opinion. She told me she had to work at the hospital that night so she wouldn’t be able to accompany me. This let me know that if I DID attend this function, I would be 100% on my own ... especially if (in my mind) my outspoken Democratic presence at an equally outspoken Republican event went south.
Later that hour I spoke with local Democratic leaders to solicit their advice and to assure them that I would only go to hear what the opposition would say. The two that I spoke to thought I was brave (considering my past public statements) and encouraged me to attend if only for the sport of it.
So, I returned to my office and I told my colleague that I would be honored to attend the dinner, and I made my plans accordingly.
That Saturday, I girded myself for the event.
- How would I respond if someone displayed hostility?
- How would I respond if snubbed?
- How would I respond if I overheard a racial slur or worse?
Then I concluded that I was overthinking the whole thing. That I should attend this event as I have several partisan events over the years: as a political analyst and educator.
My goal for the evening was four-fold:
- Enjoy a meal for which I had paid my hard-earned money.
- Listen to the speeches with an intense ear.
- Shut the hell up.
- Make it home in one piece.
As I approached the venue, I saw an old friend who now serves in the Kentucky general assembly and we carried on small talk on the way to the elevator. Then I saw a former professor who was just as an outspoken advocate for conservative causes as I am for liberal ones. I always knew him to be reasonable and balanced. And finally, I saw my colleagues, friends, and a current student at the table where I would sit. This made me feel at ease and standing down from a hypothetical confrontation.
Now the shutting-the-hell-up part was my next challenge.
The meal was immaculate, and the evening itself was full of the usual patriotic and conservative flourishes.
Senator Mitch McConnell sent a video that had messages for his fellow partisans that was eerily reminiscent of his 2009 critique of President Obama: that President Biden was promoting a liberal agenda, Democratic policies were tearing at the fabric of American life, and that he (Senator McConnell) would be on guard to protect the Republican citadel from being stormed by left-wing rabble.
To my personal surprise, State Auditor Mike Harmon announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Governor and in McConnellesque fashion declared that he alone would work to make Governor Beshear a one-termer. And more to the point, that Governor Beshear had overstepped his constitutional boundaries during the pandemic, to which the crowd mumbled in apparent agreement.
Then Senator Paul appeared in person to lambast the Biden Administration, to lampoon, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, and to perpetuate his ongoing feud with Dr. Anthony Fauci. It was classic libertarian Randal Howard Paul at his best, even claiming an early 2022 victory against his presumed opponent Charles Booker.
And finally, First District Congressman Jamie Comer appeared in person to report on his most recent encounter with Donald Trump, Jr. and hinted that the former president could possibly get into the 2024 election for a third White House bid. In an odd twist, the Congressman opined that Hunter Biden was a national security risk, and that an investigation would reveal that Hunter was involved in some nefarious activities that would be revealed in due time.
I sat, slack-jawed and quiet, and processed every syllable and every response.
And as I made my way back to my car, I came to a frightening conclusion: That the Republicans could easily retake the Congress, the Governor’s mansion, and the White House because they were mobilized, ready, revved up by conspiracy theories and sulking in apparent grievance. And their efforts would only be abetted if my Democratic Party continued to step on our own message.
That my Democratic Party was in serious trouble due to its open and hostile divisions over issues to which there should be consensus.
That my Democratic Party was at risk of alienating its base by ignoring the passage of key voting rights and police brutality measures that mobilized voters of color in record number in the most recent elections that gave the party of Barack Obama the presidency and the Senate. And that if voters of color felt disrespected, betrayed, and deceived, that they would easily stay at home in subsequent elections.
That my Democratic President should act more forcefully and use the awesome powers of his office to facilitate his mandate.
And that moderate and progressive Democrats should go to their nearest dictionaries and look up the meaning of the word “compromise.”
What I concluded from that Saturday night event was simple: The Republicans sense disarray and division within the Democratic Party, and will use it to their cynical advantage to win upcoming elections and implement their dangerous and nativist far right agenda. If they are successful, the implications for liberal democracy in America are too frightening to contemplate.
My warning is simple: Our Party needs to get it together (and soon) or we are finished.
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