In 2017, former Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky gave the Democrats’ response to President Trump’s first address to Congress. The visuals were striking. Beshear, an older white man, was seated in a diner in Lexington, Ky., among an almost entirely white group of patrons. He was dressed casually. Several of the men in the background looked like they did factory work or another form of manual labor. You didn’t need to listen to anything Mr. Beshear said to get the obvious message: The Democratic Party is a big tent, with room for the kinds of working-class white men who backed the president.
Coming as it did after months of intra-Democratic Party recrimination over the 2016 election results, Beshear’s response felt reactive. Democrats were fighting on the president’s terrain, trying to cast themselves as the authentic representatives of white working-class America.
This background is what makes the Democratic response to Tuesday’s State of the Union address so interesting. To rebut the president, offer its vision and give viewers a sense of what the party really looks like, Democrats chose Stacey Abrams, former minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives and 2018 nominee for governor. Abrams lost narrowly to Gov. Brian Kemp in an election marked by accusations of voter suppression and disenfranchisement. But in defeat she has become a national Democratic star, so prominent and admired that she was given the task of responding to the president.
The ascension of Stacey Abrams, like the unprecedentedly diverse class of Democrats elected in 2018, represents a definitive repudiation of the idea that Democrats must downplay “identity” to appeal to the country at large. [Continue reading…]