John Yarmuth just can’t help but be Congressman Awesome:
“One of the problems we had nationally was that we had a lot of members who had been in office a long time and had kind of been cruising,” Yarmuth told TIME on late Tuesday over the still raucous cheers of relieved supporters in the background. “So when they found themselves in an environment where people were yelling in their faces, they lacked the skills and the confidence to defend the good things they had just accomplished.” Instead, he said, too many congressional Democrats “pandered” to an angry and frustrated electorate, instead of selling them on the benefits of health care reform and the rest.
Yarmuth, easily the most liberal member of Congress from Kentucky in decades, never apologized for any of the legislation he has helped passed since Obama’s Inauguration. “I’ve been outspoken on these issues for a long time,” he told TIME. “And when I’ve been out talking to constituents, I have never wavered on my positions. They know I am someone who will say exactly what I feel.”
It was a strategy that proved pivotal compared with those of his compatriots across Kentucky. Much more moderate Democrats fared far less well. Democrat Ben Chandler declared apparent victory but only after he squeaked ahead by a few hundred votes in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District. Paul’s opponent in the Senate race, Democratic state attorney general Jack Conway, never seemed to show voters exactly where he stood or find his voice — at least not before giving a passionate and articulate concession speech on Tuesday.
Yarmuth was reluctant to criticize Conway, who is also from Louisville, but he agreed that the Democratic Senate candidate had failed to convince skeptical voters that he stood for something powerful. “I hate to talk about Jack’s campaign, because I feel Jack did what he had to do,” Yarmuth said, giving a nod to the fact that Kentucky voters as a whole are far more conservative than the ones he faced in Louisville. “But one of the problems Jack had was that he never — well, he tried to kind of guess where most Kentuckians were on the issues. And voters usually can see through that. He didn’t stand up for particular values and say, ‘This is my position, even if it’s unpopular.’ He may have believed in every position he took, but he never convinced voters.”
Is it possible to overdose on Awesomeness? Yarmy may have to tone it down a bit, for his own health.
Did any of you ever hear Jack Conway answer why he supported the health care bill? Almost invariably, he spent the first 30 seconds talking about what was wrong with it, going straight into apology mode. But there was one time where I heard and felt something different from him. It was at the Max Cleland event in Lexington (just after the Aqua Buddha ad exploded), when someone spoke up to thank him for favoring it. Jack seemed to throw away the script for about 5 minutes and talked passionately about how this bill effected someone he knew. It might have been the only time I’ve ever really believed something that came out of his mouth. For me, Jack had always been some person that I supported by default. He would make much better decisions than Stan Lee as AG. He would make much better votes than Dan Mongiardo or Rand Paul. But I never really believed, or at least was never sure, that he really believed what he was saying. When he talked about “Kentucky values” or “why would Rand join a group that mocked Christ” or “the Hometown Tax Credit” or how evil cap and trade was or how those Bush tax cuts for the top 2% were so vital to keep, I didn’t believe him. But for those 5 minutes when he was talking about how health care reform changed the life of someone, it was the first time up to that point that I was sure Jack was speaking from the heart. I would have loved to hear Rand Paul try to counter that story, explaining how it wasn’t fair to insurance companies or the exponential spirit of capitalism. I was kicking myself later for not videotaping the Q&A session that day, because it was one of the few truly inspirational moments of this year’s senate campaign.
Unfortunately, it was also the last.
Just throwing that out there, since Congressman Awesome went and beat me to it.
And if you haven’t seen Yarmuth’s victory speech yet, please set aside 12 minutes of your time sometime today or this weekend and watch this thing from start to finish. We should all be really grateful to have someone like this in Washington DC representing our state.: