The contest for the Democratic nomination in the 4th Congressional District highlights all that’s good, and all that’s bad, about the outsize role of the Kennedy family in Massachusetts politics. When the liberal icon Barney Frank announced his retirement earlier this year, there were dozens of ambitious Democratic politicians — in the Legislature and in local governments across the district — who might have relished a chance to advance. But when Joe Kennedy III, a 31-year-old Middlesex County prosecutor, announced he would get into the race, the field all but cleared. Half a century after John F. Kennedy was elected president, it still looks foolhardy to run against a still-formidable family brand.
Among the candidates who remain, Kennedy is the clear choice. One of his opponents is Rachel Brown, a Lyndon Larouche supporter who, according to her website, thinks President Obama is pushing the world toward a thermonuclear war. Kennedy’s other opponent is Herb Robinson, an engineer and political newcomer who’s running a part-time campaign. Like anyone who grew up in a family business, Kennedy has a far better feel for politics than the typical first-time candidate. By touting the number of campaign stops he’s made in the 4th District, he seems eager to show that he’s working hard to win the office, not just have it handed to him.
Kennedy still seems to be feeling out his political positions; in debates so far, he’s fallen back on standard Democratic tropes. In one debate, when asked about changes that might be needed to shore up Social Security, he bristled at even modest steps like raising the retirement age. Ideally, Kennedy’s name would free him to make tough choices on entitlement matters without having his commitment to core Democratic values questioned. While Kennedy can take pride in his family’s role in shaping Democratic politics in America, he should not be boxed in by it.