Author Thomas Frank speaking at the “Rough River Sessions” conference

Kentucky Democrats look to revitalize party

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(The Grayson County News covered the recent conference put on by BlueGrassRoots, which publisher Bruce Maples helped to set up. Here is their coverage of the event, written by their editor, Matt Lasley.)

A coalition of Kentucky Democrats, collectively known as BlueGrassRoots, held a conference at Rough River Dam State Resort Park this weekend to discuss ways of rebuilding and revitalizing their party in a state that has in recent decades become primarily Republican-leaning in regards to its election outcomes.

According to the Kentucky State Board of Elections, as of April 27, Kentucky has 1,618,061 registered Democrats and 1,599,306 registered Republicans. Jefferson County’s population of registered Democrats is the largest in the state with 359,952, and Fayette County’s is second with 131,784.

In Grayson County, there are 4,872 registered Democrats and 12,384 registered Republicans.

The all-day conference, entitled “The Rough River Sessions: Democrats, Are You Ready for the Country?” was highlighted by the keynote address from Thomas Frank, the Washington, D.C.-based author of works such as Listen, Liberal and What’s the Matter with Kansas?

The primary theme of Frank’s address was the question of how America shifted from an affluent society in which every citizen would have an equal opportunity to be part “of the great middle class” (an era he considers to have taken place between 1935 and around 1980) into a society in which CEO wages continue to increase while lower level employees’ wages barely increase at all.

Frank said one can drive through just about any small town in America and see the results of decades of middle class decline, with buildings that once housed prospering, independently owned businesses now empty, or, as he called them, “Relics of a civilization that doesn’t make sense anymore.”

According to Frank, this reorganization of society so that only those at the top can benefit represents “nothing less than the undoing of a civilization.”

Frank said there is equal blame for both Democrats and Republicans for the current state of the country.

While the Republican party, he said, has “historically worshipped big business,” by cutting taxes for the wealthy and rolling back regulations allowing for the return of monopolies, they appeal to working class voters by using traditionally Democratic philosophies of being defenders of the common man and enemies of the elite (i.e. the messages and work of Presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson).

Additionally, Frank said, the Republican party stokes the flames of “culture wars” (i.e., the war on Christmas, the war on Dr. Seuss, the COVID-19 pandemic, etc.) as a method of “organized discontent” to distract from the true issues of economic prosperity for all, affordable healthcare, and affordable housing.

But through all of this, according to Frank, Democrats have had no real answer or alternative, as high ranking Democrats over the past 30 years such as President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama pushed the message of what one learns determines what one earns — essentially saying that the middle class collapsed because those without a college degree do not deserve affluence.

Despite publicly acknowledging the ever-increasing wage gap between the upper and lower classes, Obama never led his Justice Department to prosecute top Wall Street executives for the frauds that led to the country’s financial crisis, Frank said.

As a result, the upper class continued to flourish, while students garnered more and more debt and laborers got service jobs, according to Frank, adding that this ultimately becomes the story of a “cosmic reversal” — how the left became that of learned winners, not the middle/working class.

“The right has earned tremendous success in appealing to the working class in the same strides as the left has abandoned them,” said Frank.

In a moment of “unending crisis,” America’s two-party system has “degenerated into a hateful culture war,” in which both sides view the other as “dictators,” Frank said.

In order to turn the corner, Frank said, political parties must never “embrace the politics of individual righteousness;” instead, they must embrace “ideological patience.”

Every successful democratic movement in the past consisted of ordinary people coming together for their own improvement, he said, adding that one does not have to be a person of “unblemished moral virtue” to do good things.

“Such people must be invited to help build a better society,” Frank said, adding that Americans from every walk of life must be included in the conversation and work.

In closing, Frank said that an “enormous majority” of Americans want the minimum wage to be higher, as well as affordable housing and healthcare, and it is time they realize they are not meant to be “glorified security guards” protecting the holdings of billionaires, celebrities, and tech companies.

During a question and answer portion of the event, an attendee asked Frank about the ongoing issue Democrats face of being branded as one opposed to Christianity (primarily due to its majority pro-choice stance regarding women’s reproductive rights) and gun rights, and how the party can stay true to its principles and still be successful in the face of this branding.

Frank said Democrats can never retreat from the advances society has made and noted that, in the past, sociological advances were always included side-by-side with economic prosperity policies.

“Democrats must be interested in both,” he said.

Following Frank’s address, Bruce Maples, of Forward Kentucky, facilitated a panel discussion about the future of the Democratic party in Kentucky.

The panel consisted of Kentucky Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reggie Thomas (D-13); Kentucky House of Representatives Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins (D-44); Kentucky Democratic Party LGBTQIA Council Chair and Kentucky Nurses Political Action Council member Nisia Thornton; political organizer Cody Pruitt; and Donna Haynes, of the Daviess County Democrats Executive Committee.

The panel echoed Frank’s message of inclusion.

“We can only turn the wheel of true progress when we have locked arms to turn it together,” Thornton said.

Officials said they hope to continue to hold conferences such as the Rough River Sessions in the future.

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Written by Matt Lasley, editor of the Grayson County News. Cross-posted from their site.

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