I like you, Joe Kennedy The Third. But you’re starting to bug me.
As the Sept. 1 primary draws near, I’m increasingly resentful that you’re making me choose between you and incumbent Ed Markey. Until you decided to try and take his place in the US Senate, Massachusetts got to have both of you in Congress, and that was good. I mean, to be honest, neither of you has as much fire and pizzazz as I’d like, but I was enjoying it.
You’re a great advocate for the rights of LGBTQ people. You have a talent for highlighting the moral rot at the heart of Republican attempts to strip access to health care and other rights for ordinary people. You are a deeply decent person.
Markey has been an indefatigable trailblazer on environmental issues for his entire career. America is finally catching up to him on climate change — a global, existential threat that will make this catastrophic pandemic look like playtime. His expertise is enormously valuable, especially if Democrats take the Senate.
Why’d you have to go and ruin it?
It’s not like there’s any real daylight between you and Markey on the issues. Sure, each of you has tried to highlight weaknesses in the other during debates — Markey trying to make voters doubt your progressivism, you questioning his connections to the state. It’s pretty weak stuff compared to the issues that really matter, on which: Twinsies!
And it’s not like you would make the Senate look any more like actual America. The contest between Ayanna Pressley and longtime incumbent Mike Capuano in the 7th Congressional District was a tough one for me to watch too, given that Capuano had clout, and a rabid fervor for progressive causes. But Pressley, a Black woman, has brought a lifetime of experiences around issues of race, gender, and justice to Washington. Congress is the better for it, as is Massachusetts.
Women and people of color are still woefully underrepresented in Congress. So if our only choice here is to replace one white guy with another, that second guy should be super spectacular.
But mostly what I’m hearing from you is that you’d be a better senator than Markey because you’re younger. You’re 39, and Markey is 74. He’s been serving in Congress since before you were born. An ad you put up recently argues that Massachusetts needs “a new generation of leadership with the energy and courage to fight for change.”
You’ve increasingly cast yourself as the guy going up against the establishment. “If you believe this is as good as we can possibly be, then great, vote for the status quo,” you say in another spot.
I have a couple problems with all of that. First, you’ve been in Congress for almost seven years, which is plenty long enough to own a chunk of that status quo. Second, you come from a storied, and very well-funded, political family. Now, I’m not one who thinks you’re some dilettante trading on your lineage: You’ve worked hard, and your commitment is genuine. But also, you are not some insurgent coming out of nowhere to shake up the system. Your people have been the system.
I’ll allow here that I may be particularly leery of the newer-is-automatically-better argument, given that I myself have reached the statement-necklace stage of life, wherein some of the youngers seem to assume that, because of my advanced years, I have lost both my edge and my fastball. This happens about 20 years sooner to women than it does to men, but that’s another column. Anyway, Markey has deployed progressive icon Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, his partner in the Green New Deal, to pummel that narrative. “When it comes to progressive leadership, it’s not your age that counts,” says Ocasio-Cortez, 30, in his latest ad. “It’s the age of your ideas.”
It might be working. In addition to showing a tightening race, a poll released late last week by JMC Analytics found that Markey was beating you among voters under 55, with you leading among older respondents. But who knows how reliable any poll is in this upside-down year?
I do know that whoever wins will be a quality senator. But I’ll always be mad at one of you.