F*ck American Royalty
Let’s declare a thousand-year ban on the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Clintons, and, yes, the Trumps
Last week, Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III announced his candidacy for the Senate, aiming to unseat current Democratic incumbent Ed Markey, who has held the office since 2013. Kennedy has served in Congress for just as long, and in those six years he has distinguished himself by… well, he hasn’t really distinguished himself at all.
Kennedy took over for former Congressional stalwart Barney Frank, and you’d be forgiven if you thought Frank was still in that office, given that he remains such a prominent and combative voice in the national conversation. Though Kennedy tends to vote along progressive lines, GovTrack found that this chip off the chip off the brother of the old block sponsored six bills that eventually became law: one for every year he’s served. Three of those bills were substantive in nature, including the POWER Act, designed to steer pro bono legal representation to victims of domestic violence. But three others were mostly ceremonial, including a bill to honor the 100th birthday of Kennedy’s great uncle, President John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy touts himself as someone committed to “working across the aisle,” which makes him dangerously naïve in a time when Democrats cannot afford to be. If I hear one more goddamn Democrat talk up unity, I’ll split them in half.
Despite the fact that he often talks a good game, Kennedy has lagged behind some of his more aggressive peers when it comes to adopting what SHOULD be the new Democratic party platform. He was late to supporting legalized weed. He was late to supporting Medicare For All. Along with a majority of impotent fellow Democrats, he voted in favor of leaving Mitch McConnell’s ghoulish border bill unchanged, essentially giving Republicans unlimited funds to continue human rights abuses against aspiring new Americans. Despite being just 38 years old, Kennedy tends to operate like a politician double his age. I shouldn’t need to wait for him to evolve on his stances. The only fun thing about Kennedy was when my Deadspin colleague Patrick Redford impersonated him on Twitter by making his photo his avatar and asking if anybody wanted to smoke some dope.
You could argue, and some have, that Kennedy is wisely attempting to legislate from the background and not make himself the lead story every time he graces the Capitol with his presence. Then again, the man’s supposedly deferential qualities vanish when you consider that he’s publicly angling to unseat a Senator from his own party who has a superior track record. Ed Markey is not exactly the first Democrat I want primaried. Let’s get truly worthless assholes like Joe Manchin out of the paint before taking down the Ed Markeys of the world.
Despite being just 38 years old, Kennedy tends to operate like a politician double his age.
Neither Kennedy’s ambition nor his performative reticence on the floor of Congress are a surprise when you consider his pedigree. He’s a Kennedy. He was born for this, and there are surely many voters (and importantly, pundits) out there who want this for him. The name is what really matters, and if Joe Kennedy has been reluctant to trade on that name up until now, he won’t stay that way.
I have lived my entire life in an America that prides itself on being a meritocracy while tacitly championing several political dynasties of its own. I have lived through two Bush administrations: the second one even more catastrophic than the first. I have lived through the Clintons and all of their accompanying bullshit. So it makes perfect sense that I would be forced to live through yet another attempt to reboot Camelot, this time with a dude four years younger than me who still has hang-ups about his fellow citizens sparking up a J. There are a lot of positions Kennedy holds that I support. Then again, you could easily replace him with someone else who ALSO holds those views but doesn’t have the luxury of fucking off to Hyannis Port for a big bowl of steamers when shit gets too heavy.
You wanna know why shit never really changes in America? Here is why. Jeb Bush ran for President under the assumption that his name alone was enough of an accomplishment to get voters to flock to him. He ended up being miraculously wrong about that, his nascent candidacy smothered while still in utero, but who could blame him for trying to exploit his lineage? Jeb’s brother was a folksy idiot who committed war crimes during his eight years in office, and now people pretend to like his oil paintings. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016 by over 3 million. A dead Kennedy of some sort still appears on the cover of Vanity Fair at least every other month. Mike Huckabee’s asshole kid got a job lying for the White House and was summarily rewarded with a goodbye party from the very same reporters she lied to and a paid gig to lie on TV for FOX. Meghan McCain gets paid nearly a million a year to be even more of a fool. People wanted Michelle Obama to run for President, and still do! The woman just wants to live a normal life again for a little bit, but there will always be loyalists tugging at her. The names linger. The clans in question never have to look far for opportunities to remain both powerful and relevant.
Americans can bitch about these dynasties all they like. And yet, when it comes down to deciding their own fate, they often entrust the future of this country to the same tightly related families they always have. Political clans serve as both comfort food to voters and insta-storylines to all the bluehairs in the White House press corps that lived through the JFK assassination and relish any chance to rehash the details of it. They are recycled IP, in much the same way Hollywood shits out movies with the same pre-branded characters over and over again. As a Bush or Kennedy, your name is a built-in head start: an open door to donors, and power brokers, and heads of industry.
And these names are not going away. George Prescott Bush is currently the Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office. He once persuaded Phil Collins to donate artifacts to The Alamo, so that’s nice. Last year, Chelsea Clinton said she might consider running for office one day. The younger Clinton once threw Congresswoman Ilhan Omar under the bus, castigating her for her supposed anti-Semitism the same way every GOP operative acting in bad faith has done likewise. (Clinton has since embraced Omar, though I assume more out of PR savvy than genuine interest.) Donald Trump Jr. has also not ruled out a career in public office, despite the fact that Donald Trump Jr. is a deeply ugly soul with virtually no accomplishments to speak of despite the financial and social advantages handed to him. He will have no shortage of GOP operatives goading him into running. They already have.
The trap here is believing that these new generations of American royalty will break away from their forebears and blaze a new trail ahead for the rest of us. In most cases, what you get are the same old fusty ideas and methods with a younger, even more affluent face slapped onto them. It is an insidious way of perpetuating the old-fogey power apparatus that currently has us falling off a mountainside. That political dynasties still thrive in America is a glaring indictment of both our creativity and our standards for leadership.
As far as I’m concerned, it should be part of estate tax law that you cannot spiritually inherit a political office.
The cruel irony to this is that name recognition is hardly the formidable task it once was for candidates. You could argue the most famous member of the House right now is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was a perfect stranger to everyone two short years ago. AOC is now a national name not only because of her policies, but because of her deft use of the new media at her disposal. Her newness was never a liability. In fact, as that Politico story linked above notes, being part of a brand-name political dynasty can now breed outright contempt from voters, as it ought to. Having a big name didn’t help Jeb Bush. Nor did it help Hillary Clinton. Everyone knew who Hillary was, but that doesn’t mean they liked her. Quite the contrary. That name became a burden, especially against an opponent who was exceedingly talented at both making a name for himself and degrading the names of others.
Hillary’s victorious opponent, Donald Trump, almost certainly hopes to establish a dynasty of his own. He gave his oldest kid and her scumbag of a husband positions within his administration that they never deserved, and of course Ivanka quickly used the likes of The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman to leak out word that she wasn’t ALWAYS on board with her old man, just so you could count on her the next time she assumes a powerful leadership position of her own and demands YOUR affection, which she very much will.
America would be better off without any of these families. Forever. As far as I’m concerned, it should be part of estate tax law that you cannot spiritually inherit a political office. As it stands now, Americans are handing over vital duties to Joe Kennedy and other cosseted legacy cases who are, with each passing generation, born at an even greater remove from the people they purport to represent. I’ve seen this casting reel a hundred times. It’s gotten no better with age. Instead of gifting these fuckers the same power as their forebears, demand someone new. Demand they all be new. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with the same old shit until it drowns us all.
Update: An earlier version of this story linked to an op-ed by Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, not Rep. Joe Kennedy. We apologize for royally screwing that up.