No one else wanted to bite the bullet, eh? CBS reporter Mark Knoller called former Kentucky governor Steve Beshear an “elder statesman” of the Democratic Party, but there are two problems with that description. One is that Beshear has rarely been a “statesman” at all in national politics, and got roundly eclipsed by the progressive movement within his party over the last several years.
The second? Well, the Democratic Party has no lack of “elder statesmen,” so to speak. Clearly, none of them wanted to take on the thankless task of being an afterthought to a presidential address in front of a joint session of Congress. Beshear gamely gave it a go, but …
At times, it seemed as though Beshear expected to follow a much different speech than the one Trump gave last night. “This isn’t a game,” Beshear scolded when discussing Trump’s call to repeal Obamacare, “it’s life and death to people.” Trump had just called on Congress to make sure that no one got lost in the transition, though, which made it appear that Beshear had anticipated some campaign-trail bravado.
For such an “elder statesman,” Beshear took up a lot of time at the beginning of his speech introducing himself to the audience, and also the Democratic Party. In the New York Times transcript, it takes eight paragraphs for Beshear to address anything Trump has said. That took almost two and half minutes of a nine-minute speech. It’s not difficult to imagine that viewers had tuned Beshear out by that point in time, either literally or figuratively. Most of the speech was a rehash of the 2016 general election campaign, an effort in which Beshear was largely excluded by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
Why not pick someone with more national name recognition, someone who wouldn’t have to spend more than a quarter of his speech introducing himself to the audience? Where was Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren? The cameras caught them in the audience, so they were certainly available. How about Tom Perez or Keith Ellison? Democrats seem to have belatedly realized — after their leadership elections, of course — that the American electorate doesn’t care much for strident hard-progressive politicians from the coastal-elite enclaves, and went looking for someone who could speak to Middle America.
And the only choice they had was an “elder statesman” who retired more than a year ago as his state chose someone from the opposite party to replace him. That speaks volumes, even if Beshear’s response speech didn’t.