Last Tuesday, Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III delivered to a national audience the official Democratic Party rebuttal to President Trump’s state of the union address. A scion of the highly influential Kennedy dynasty, the New England congressman conveyed the official party response from the confines of a local auto-shop in Fall River, Massachusetts, a historically blue-collar community. Without officially referring to Trump, Kennedy lambasted the current presidential administration, delivering an explicit philippic against the current state of the nation under the ruling GOP government. Evoking the image of a diverse, egalitarian America rooted in historical precedents, Kennedy advocated for a new, seemingly utopian future under the Democratic Party that would harness the “spirit of a people united in defense of their future.”
Although Kennedy and the Democratic Party were not unjustified in calling out the many regressive, un-American policies enacted by Trump and the GOP over the previous year, this political tactic of constant criticism towards the ineptitude of the current government runs stale. The majority of the American people are continuously being reminded on a daily basis the chaotic state of healthcare, immigration and tax policies under Trump through detailed news and media reports being circulated within their respective social media spheres. Given the pessimistic reality of the current political environment, the Democratic Party should rather focus on concrete steps, policies and plans to ultimately ameliorate and pushback against current the state of union envisioned by the GOP. As of now, the Democratic Party’s vision of a future, more optimistic state of union—where Hispanic immigrants, the white blue collar working class and Black Lives Matter activists all live harmoniously under a benevolent Democratic union—seems like a quixotic liberal fairy tale rooted in historicized romanticism, a Camelot 2.0
Moreover, the Democratic Party’s decision to select Congressman Kennedy, both the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and grandnephew of President Kennedy, to deliver the speech is somewhat paradoxical given the party’s supposed commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. Kennedy’s elite, almost aristocratic background as a wealthy, Harvard and Stanford educated celebrity politician does not reflect the lived experiences of so many Americans that he and the Democrats claim to currently represent: women, the working class, Hispanic immigrants, transgender peoples, etc. The last time the Democrats endorsed a prominent celebrity candidate from a storied political dynasty for the presidency, Clinton in 2016, issues concerning proper representation and political elitism plagued the party platform, which contributed to the Democrats' miserable defeat. Although Congressman Kennedy is at no fault for being the inheritor of so much white privilege, the Democratic Party should still aim to remain true to the values of diversity and social egalitarianism it seeks to embody, looking towards 2020.
Given the almost mythical reputation of the Kennedy family in American liberal politics, it is easy to see perhaps why the Democratic leadership selected Congressman Joseph Kennedy to deliver its rebuttal to Trump’s state of the union. However, in selling the promise of a seemingly mythical, utopian future state of the union—one that might be guided by the heir to the Arthurian Kennedy mythos himself—the Democrats run the risk of further alienating a cynical, pessimistic voter base already fed up with elitist, theoretical and homogenous politics. The American people do not require an abstract vision of a Camelot II going into 2020, but rather desperately need a politician and party willing to concretely embody and defend the values of diversity, human rights and freedom from a policy-based perspective.