The real issues in this Senate campaign? Speeches offer a clue

August 9, 2014

140806Clinton-TE0255Former President Bill Clinton appeared at a fundraising luncheon in Lexington on Aug. 6 for Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Photos by Tom Eblen


I spent time in the past week listening to a lot of speeches by the two U.S. Senate candidates and their surrogates.

We don’t hear as many political speeches as we used to. Campaigns have mostly become a series of TV attack ads in which candidates trash their opponents and stretch the truth as much as they can in 30 seconds.

Political speeches are longer than attack ads, increasing the odds that a candidate might mention accomplishments or goals or reveal the values behind his or her campaign.

When Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, faced off Aug. 2 at the Fancy Farm Picnic, they mostly mocked each other and professed more love for the coal industry than for clean air, clean water and good health.

McConnell used the rest of his time to slam Gov. Steve Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway, the “liberal” media and President Barack Obama, perhaps the only politician with a lower approval rating in Kentucky than his own.

McConnell vowed to repeal Obama’s health-care law, which has provided insurance to tens of thousands of Kentuckians who didn’t have it. He also urged voters to re-elect him to lead Senate Republicans so the gridlock in Washington can continue.

What McConnell did not mention was any accomplishments during his three decades as Kentucky’s longest-serving senator. He also didn’t say what he would do to improve the lives of average Kentuckians.

At least Grimes used some of her time to talk about how she would try to grow a middle class that has been shrinking for three decades because of globalization and “trickle down” economic policies that favor the wealthy.

Grimes called for raising the minimum wage and legislating equitable pay for women, both of which McConnell opposes. She also voiced support for strengthening Social Security and Medicare, making college more affordable and protecting the right of workers to bargain collectively for better pay and benefits.

With polls showing the race essentially tied, Grimes brought in former President Bill Clinton to campaign for her Wednesday in Lexington and Hazard. Clinton carried Kentucky in both of his presidential elections, and his administrations presided over an era of balanced budgets, job growth, welfare reform and economic prosperity.

Clinton is a gifted speaker with a knack for putting things in perspective.

“Creating jobs and raising incomes and giving poor people a chance to work into the middle class, that is the issue,” Clinton told those who attended a Grimes fundraising luncheon in Lexington.

He endorsed Grimes’ call for raising the $7.25 federal minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased in five years.

“We have not kept up with inflation,” Clinton said, adding that a reasonable increase in the minimum wage will create jobs, not kill them as Republicans always claim. “These people are going to spend that money; it’s going to circulate in their communities; all the local merchants are going to be better off; incomes will go up; more people will get hired; more people will get a pay raise.

“Creating more jobs and shared prosperity, as opposed to fewer jobs and more concentrated wealth with all the benefits going to people at the top, is the main issue people face in country after country and country,” he added. “We Americans have not done enough for broadly shared prosperity, because we have not done enough to create jobs.”

Clinton also discussed the political obstruction McConnell has led in Congress since Obama became president in 2009.

He contrasted McConnell to former U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford, a Democrat who while in Senate leadership worked well with colleagues and presidents of both parties, and to Beshear, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican, who together last year formed the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative to help diversify Eastern Kentucky’s economy.

“I’ve been everywhere, and I’m telling you: whenever people are working together, good things are happening,” Clinton said. “Whenever they spend all their time fighting, good things are not happening. The founders of this country gave us a system that requires us to treat people who disagree with us with respect and dignity and to make principled compromise so that something good can happen. Cooperation works, and constant conflict is a dead-bang loser.”

Click on each image to see larger photo and read caption:

Photos from Bill Clinton’s campaign stop in Lexington today

August 6, 2014

Former President Bill Clinton was in Lexington today for a campaign fundraising luncheon at Carrick House for Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat challenging the re-election of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. Photos by Tom Eblen





















Many questions remain after Democratic, Republican conventions

September 8, 2012

Presidential nominating conventions make for interesting political theater, even if you do come away from watching them as confused as ever about what either candidate would actually do if elected.

For the most part, the Democratic and Republican conventions were giant pep rallies for the converted. There was a lot of inspiring rhetoric and many tales of personal struggle, both real and imagined. Leaders of each party distorted the records and plans of the other, while glossing over and obfuscating their own.

President Obama’s acceptance speech had too few specifics; challenger Mitt Romney’s had almost none. Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, kept fact-checkers busy with his disregard for the truth. Vice President Joe Biden was himself.

Clint Eastwood, speaking to Republicans, had a stammering conversation with an empty chair. Comedians loved it. Have you heard the new pickup line? “Is this seat taken, or are you talking with President Obama?”

In one of the best speeches of his career, former President Bill Clinton took advantage of Republicans’ vagueness to put his own spin on their plans. Clinton summarized the GOP argument for replacing Obama this way: “We left him a total mess, he hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.”

U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, a Kentucky Democrat who is in a tight race to keep his 6th District seat, was too chicken to attend his party’s convention. His challenger, Andy Barr, got a speaking slot at the Republican convention, but he used his moment in the spotlight to push his campaign contributors’ phony “war on coal” agenda.

One of the most honest comments in a speech at either convention came from Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican. You may have missed it, because it was mixed in with a lot of libertarian sound bites and distortions of Obama’s comment about government’s role in creating infrastructure that contributes to individual success.

“Republicans and Democrats alike, though, must slay their sacred cows,” Paul said. “Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well-spent. Democrats must admit that domestic welfare and entitlements must be reformed.”

As we hunker down for eight more weeks of slimy attack ads, funded by millions of dollars in anonymous special-interest cash, there are some questions voters should ask before election day:

What are each party’s specific plans for job-creation and economic revival? What can Obama do that he hasn’t already done — or failed to do in the face of solid Republican opposition?

What specific things would Romney and a Republican-controlled Congress do to create jobs and boost the economy? More tax cuts and deregulation won’t do it; they never have before.

Tax rates, especially for the wealthy, are already at their lowest point in decades. Do Americans really want dirtier air and water and more gambling on Wall Street? Financial deregulation, which began under Clinton, was a big cause of the 2008 crisis that tanked the economy. Bush-era tax cuts, plus two wars waged on credit, are the biggest causes of our exploding national debt.

If Obamacare is repealed, what would Republicans replace it with? So far, they haven’t offered credible proposals for either expanding insurance coverage or curbing health care costs.

While Obama’s health-care reform law has been easy to demagogue as a package, many of its individual elements are very popular, such as letting parents insure young-adult children and banning lifetime benefit caps and exclusions for pre-existing conditions. Do voters really want those reforms to go away?

If Obamacare survives, how will both parties find ways to lower health care costs? That is the reform law’s biggest shortcoming. Improving on it will require Republican as well as Democratic solutions, many tough choices and less demagoguery. Is either party up to the challenge?

More than anything, voters should ask candidates running for the White House and Congress how they will work with those in the other party to solve the nation’s problems. The past four years have clearly shown that ideological rigidity and partisan gridlock just make things worse, no matter who is in charge.

Telling Blue Grass Airport’s story: Lucky Lindy, QEII and you

August 5, 2012

Piedmont Airlines’ first passenger flight from Lexington, on a DC-3 bound for Cincinnati, was Feb. 20, 1948. In 1965, Piedmont flew the first passenger jet flight into Blue Grass Field. File photo

If anyone doubted that Lexington needed a better airport in 1928, they were set straight by America’s most famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh.

When “Lucky Lindy” made a surprise overnight visit to Lexington at the height of his fame, he had trouble even finding the municipal airport, Halley Field, a converted pasture off Leestown Road where Meadowthorpe subdivision now stands.

More than 2,000 people watched Lindbergh leave the next morning. His five-passenger Ryan monoplane — similar to the famous “Spirit of St. Louis” he flew on the first solo non-stop Atlantic crossing — almost crashed on takeoff.

“Lindy Plane Barely Misses Trees at Hop Off,” The Lexington Leader reported with a front-page banner headline. “Lindy Says Lexington’s Airport Too Small for Present Aviation Needs.” How embarrassing.

That is one of many colorful stories Fran Taylor has discovered while doing research for a book Blue Grass Airport has commissioned to chronicle the history of the airport and aviation in Central Kentucky. Taylor wants help finding more great stories.

Everyone is invited to bring pre-1980 photos and mementos to the airport terminal’s lobby from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. A videographer will record oral histories, and a photographer will take pictures of special items. Prizes will be given for the best story, memento and photo.

“It’s a really rich history,” Taylor said, adding that the Aviation Museum of Kentucky at the airport has been a great resource. “Blue Grass Field was like the Forrest Gump of airports. If it happened nationally, it happened here in a big way.”

Although airplanes might have used a grassy meadow off Richmond Road as early as 1917, the first real local airstrip was Dr. S.H. Halley’s field, which opened in 1921 and became the municipal airport in 1927. After Lindbergh’s close call, Cool Meadow Field was built in 1930 on Newtown Pike, where Fasig-Tipton’s Thoroughbred auction facility is now.

It was at Cool Meadow that Lexington Airways offered flying lessons and Irvin Air Chute Co. tested parachutes it manufactured here, according to research by Frank Peters, an aviation museum volunteer. Airmail service began in 1939. Blue Grass Airlines offered regional passenger service a couple of years later.

When World War II began, the Army built a flight training facility that became Blue Grass Field across from Keeneland Race Course. The Army turned it over to the city and county in 1946, and the first terminal was dedicated that fall by Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War I flying ace and president of Eastern Airlines. Eastern and Delta Air Lines began passenger service with Douglas DC-3s.

Renamed Blue Grass Airport in 1984, the 1,000-acre facility now serves more than 1 million people — and several hundred horses — each year.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has made several trips through Blue Grass Airport, which also has been host to Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, and hundreds of movie stars and other celebrities. You know Keeneland sales are in session when Arab royalty’s Boeing 747s are parked nose-to-nose on the tarmac.

But did you know that the first air freight shipment from Lexington was a package of butter sent to President Harry Truman in 1945? Or that the supersonic Concorde made a stop in 1989? Or that the airport played a role in the nation’s most notorious hijacking?

Three hijackers with pistols and hand grenades took over a Southern Airways DC-9 with 31 people aboard in November 1972, demanding $10 million. They made stops in several cities, including Lexington, where the hijackers ordered a ground crewman to strip to his underwear while refueling the plane. After 30 hours and 4,000 miles, the plane landed in Cuba, where the hijackers were captured.

Everyone remembers Blue Grass Airport’s saddest day: Aug. 27, 2006, when Comair Flight 5191 crashed on takeoff, killing 49 of the 50 people aboard.

But aviation has shaped Lexington’s collective memory in more subtle ways, too.

I remember, as a child, getting dressed up to see my father off on an annual business trip. We would stand in the old terminal hall, surrounded by photographic murals of the bluegrass landscape, and wave as Dad boarded the plane and it disappeared into the clouds. It always left me wondering how such a big machine filled with people could possibly fly.

If you go

Blue Grass Airport history project

What: Public is asked to share stories, mementoes of airport

Where: Blue Grass Airport terminal lobby, 4000 Terminal Dr., Lexington

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 11

Information: (859) 425-3105,

Seeing 2 presidents at UK, a half-century apart

October 17, 2010

I couldn’t resist stopping by the University of Kentucky last Tuesday to see former President Bill Clinton speak to several thousand people in front of the Main Building at a fund-raiser for Senate candidate Jack Conway.

Photo by Charles Bertram

Conway and Clinton. Photo by Charles Bertram

Covering presidents and would-be presidents has been a part of my job for more than 30 years. Still, there is always something exciting about seeing a president. My wife and I once interrupted a vacation in coastal Georgia to take our young daughters to see then-President George H.W. Bush arrive at the local airport.

I had a special reason for wanting to see Clinton this time. Fifty years ago, on Oct. 7, 1960, my mother took me to the same spot in front of UK’s Main Building to see John F. Kennedy, who was then campaigning for president, speak from the back of a flat-bed truck.

I don’t know if my vague memory of JFK is real, or simply the product of being told about it many times. I was a 2-year-old in a stroller that day. Still, like last Tuesday, I am glad I was there.

Kennedy rides down Lexington's Main Street. Herald-Leader photo

Bishop’s ‘Big Sort’ gets big endorsement

July 8, 2008

Bill Bishop, the former Herald-Leader editorial columnist who now lives in Texas, is coming back to Lexington next Monday (July 14) for a 7 p.m. book signing at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

His new book — The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart — is getting a lot of national attention. It has been reviewed in The New York Times and The Economist. I reviewed it in the Herald-Leader.

But perhaps the biggest plug for The Big Sort came unsolicited from former President Bill Clinton, speaking at the recent Aspen Ideas Festival. Click here to see a short video of Clinton discussing the book and talking about why he thinks we need more bipartisanship and optimism as we face up to the problems of the future.