Democrats have deputized an Ivy League blue blood with a trust fund and a famous name to reconnect with the common man. The Boston Globe reports that Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-Mass., will deliver the official response to President Trump’s State of the Union.
But making that wealthy ginger the prime-time face of the party is a clear mistake. None of the ideas and none of the experience of the Massachusetts liberal will resonate with an electorate outside the Cape Cod Bay area. Somehow Democrats still can’t understand this ahead of the midterm election, suggesting they still haven’t grasped the lessons of 2016.
The choice seems like the product of obvious desperation and misguided nostalgia. While a whole flock of senators and governors are more than happy to squabble about pecking order ahead of 2020, none are willing to represent their party. Now that task falls to the 37-year-old Kennedy.
Minus any major accomplishments, the grand-nephew of President John F. Kennedy has still managed to stoke presidential hopes. After the representative gave a fluffy one-minute floor speech during the Obamacare debate, Howard Dean could barely contain himself. “Wow,” tweeted the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “This is a Kennedy who could be president.” On Tuesday, he will be a prop.
A Kennedy rebuttal is an obvious gimmick that will be about as effective as handing one of the Bush grandchildren an old Jeb! stump speech and pushing them in front of a camera. Sure, there will be some clever phrases, but nothing new of substance. As Republicans were quick to point out, the young Democrat might sound like the old Kennedys, but he votes like Nancy Pelosi.
Kennedy has touted the party line 86 percent of the time. He has not reached across the aisle on anything bipartisan. And Kennedy voted against tax cuts that mirrored those his great-uncle signed into law as president in the 1960s.
And if policy is a problem, Kennedy’s personality won’t do wonders either. His hardscrabble story, detailing his path from prep-school Harvard Law, won’t inspire anyone, and neither will his guaranteed coronation into Congress.
Still, because the rebuttal sets the priorities of the party, it can’t be dismissed. And the significance is obvious: At a moment when purple would look better on Democrats, the party is embracing a deep blue representative. With Kennedy, the party is losing a chance to inspire voters in Indiana, Missouri, or West Virginia. They are making the same tired appeal that failed Hillary Clinton during the general election.
When these rebuttals go bad, they are the awful kind everyone remembers. The speech almost ruined a parched Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who took a water break during his remarks in 2013. It definitely retired lobbyist-Gov. Steve Beshear, whose response from a crowded Kentucky diner in 2017 looked like a hostage situation.
Now Kennedy risks the same fate. And for what? All so more prominent Democrats can pass on the responsibility, and aging liberals can enjoy a bit of nostalgia.