Visit any progressive blog today or the social media platforms of your Democratic friends, and you’ll probably notice many of them gushing about Joe Kennedy III’s rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union address last night. Kennedy largely avoided the SOTU curse that so many others have fallen into. Remember former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s rebuttal to Barack Obama? I don’t remember anything about the content, but I do remember his sweater and the number of times he was compared to Mr. Rogers. I also remember the excessive water sipping by Sen. Marco Rubio a few years ago.
Speaking at Fall River, MA, Rep. Kennedy was generally confident and poised. He also drew a sharp contrast between the United States depicted in Trump’s speech and the actual effects of some of his policies. Here are some lines from the speech that drew that stood out to me:
“Many have spent the last year angry, anxious, afraid… we see an economy that has made stocks soar, but failed workers.”
“This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us, they’re targeting the very idea of the laws that protect us.”
“Turning American life into a zero sum game where for one to win, another must lose…. a long list of false choices — five up safety net for safety. Dreamers or poor kids. Coal miners or single moms. The answer that Democrats offer — we choose both. We fight for both. The greatest strongest nation in the world should not have to live anyone behind.” Support for child care, living wage, education, infrastructure, health care.”
In general, the speech was strong enough to appeal to the base and maybe some independents, too. This is especially important heading into the fall 2018 elections, when the Dems will have to get out their base, which traditionally stays home during mid-term elections.
If I have one main critique of the speech, it is this: what are the Democrats offering other than being anti-Trump? Kennedy didn’t pitch anything bold, such as universal health care or even something less risky like a higher federal minimum wage or paid maternity leave. All of these, including Medicare for all, generally poll quite well and they are part of the Democratic Party’s platform, but they were absent from that speech last night.
I do think 2018 will be a good year for the Democrats. Right now, the momentum is on their side. The base is fired up. They keep winning state-wide elections that they shouldn’t be winning, including in deep red states, and math and history is on their side to win back the House in November.
With that said, the Democratic Party needs to offer a clear platform and policy proposals when the 2020 race gets closer. I am not convinced that being anti-Trump is going to be enough. I’m also not convinced that a 30-something with the Kennedy name is enough to challenge Trump, who will go as low as he needs to to win re-election, if he even decides to run again.
Kennedy’s speech was good. It drew a sharp contrast between Trump’s words and the reality that some Americans are living in, Americans who still haven’t seen their wages rise, or DREAMERs who have been here since they were children and now fear deportation. Kennedy’s speech reached out to them, especially when he promised that the Dems would fight for DREAMERs. Lets hope so because the GOP won’t, at least not without insane immigration demands. However, I would like to see him serve a few more terms in the House and perhaps get bumped into a leadership position to raise his profile more before he’s seen on any type of presidential ticket.