Kentucky’s political composition and expression is among the most unique of any state in the country.
It owes this to many factors: Kentucky is the intersection of Appalachia, the Midwest and the Deep South, as well as the industries contained within, and the interests of each region have a voice here.
The commonwealth also has a long heritage of giving a greater voice than many states in this region to organized labor — traditionally, mine workers who felt Big Coal viewed them as mere fodder; more recently, teachers who felt picked on by former Gov. Matt Bevin and a Republican General Assembly.
That has often caused Kentucky to go blue in state elections — and did again last November in giving Gov. Andy Beshear the mandate over Bevin.
But Kentuckians, especially outside urban population centers Louisville and Lexington, have trended socially and fiscally conservative just about ever since James Harrod established the first white settlement in Kentucky in 1774.
And because of that, many Kentuckians feel left behind, if not altogether ignored, by the modern-day Democratic Party, especially as it expresses itself on the national level.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader regarded as one of the most powerful legislators in American history, understands these nuances and dynamics. National media and out-of-state politicians too often do not, incorrectly viewing Kentucky as part of monolithic dyed-in-the-wool-red flyover America.
Here one might recall The New York Times’s institutional Twitter account proclaiming the Kentucky gubernatorial race “unexpectedly tight” — having ignorantly expected a Bevin landslide — early in the vote-counting process on Election Night last year.
One immutable fact about Kentuckians, mostly deeply principled and individualistic, is that we don’t take kindly to blanket denouncements from outsiders.
Enter Preet Bharara, a CNN legal analyst and prominent former federal prosecutor in New York City. In response to McConnell’s politically calculating suggestion that states declare bankruptcy rather than receive federal aid to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Bharara tweeted that “I too am sick and tired of subsidizing Kentucky.”
It echoes, though more coldly, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s volley that the Empire State contributes $116 billion more to the country in taxes than it receives, while Kentucky takes out $148 billion more than it sends.
Here’s the problem with Bharara’s and Cuomo’s approach: while it has gone over big back home, if their ilk want McConnell voted out, shaming Kentucky voters is not the way to do it.
It’s in Kentuckians’ DNA not to trust the motives of big-city outsiders from up north, born from the scars of battles figurative and literal with based-out-of-state industry (how newly relevant does that seem today?).
In particular, the comments of Bharara are another exhibit of why many conservatives, with a little disingenuous push from certain elected officials, view media as “the enemy of the people.”
In reality, that isn’t true. In practice, Bharara is quite literally painting himself, a left-wing media coastal elite, as the enemy of Kentuckians.
It is far more likely Bharara and Cuomo were pandering to their own base than trying to communicate with Kentucky voters. If they want change, though — and their base would no doubt benefit from a McConnell defeat — they’ve foolishly pushed against it.