The most discordant note in Joe Kennedy’s elegiac concession speech on Tuesday night was his observation that, even knowing the outcome, if he had to do it all over again, he would do it “in a heartbeat.”
Giving voice to the frustrations of tens of thousands of working-class voters living in Massachusetts gateway cities is important. But the clock is ticking down to irreversible changes in our climate, and the environmental crisis is an existential threat to the planet itself. If we don’t come to grips with that, the children of Kennedy’s supporters – and other voters – will have no future in Massachusetts or beyond.
Almost as important as defeating Donald Trump in November is wresting the Senate from the control of his invertebrate enablers. Democrats must gain at least five seats to have a marginal governing edge (more than a technical majority), double that to signal decisively that this country is ready to lance the boil of Trumpist authoritarianism.
Tracking polls in Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana and North Carolina show six margin-of-error toss-ups, winnable races. Arizona surely can be flipped, and even South Carolina could be in play. [Kentucky and Texas are expensive stretch goals.] Many of these states have media markets far smaller than Massachusetts. Just think how the $30 million+ spent on Markey-v-Kennedy plus the 4th CD House race to replace Kennedy could have been strategically deployed instead of squandered here because one candidate thought this year was his best shot to move up. Remember these possible lost opportunities after November 3.
Hubris. Entitlement. Attributes I wouldn’t previously have used to describe Joe Kennedy, the scion of one of Massachusetts’ most revered political families, and perhaps its most engaging, well-grounded, even seemingly humble, member. But he failed his Roger Mudd moment, the softball question his uncle infamously flubbed in 1980.
Joe Kennedy could never satisfactorily answer the simple “Why are you running” inquiry. It wouldn’t have served him well to say, if I wait until there is an open seat, I might lose to charismatic Ayanna Pressley, and, based on my 2019 polling, a long-in-tooth and low-wattage Markey might be an easier target.
When he declared his candidacy, Kennedy said “This isn’t a time for waiting, for sitting on the sidelines.” I never thought that being a four-term congressman from Massachusetts, speaking out eloquently on matters of social justice, whose star quality helped him barnstorm the country in 2018 to help Democrats take back the House, was “sitting on the sidelines.” One wonders if, after his less-than-stellar State of the Union response, Nancy Pelosi cooled on him, gave prized gavels to his Massachusetts colleagues Jim McGovern and Richie Neal and invited Katherine Clark to be part of her leadership team. Did he chafe at his lack of institutional advancement and see a Senate run as his ticket out?
Now, having missed his shot, he is weakened in his 2020 role campaigning for others and against Donald Trump. But he is still a gifted politician and, should Joe Biden win, could play an important role in a new administration. Optimally, Joe Kennedy’s loss signals that legacy is not limited to the family bloodline and that no one, by virtue of his or her relatives, is entitled to a seat. It frees him from the burden of legacy, permitting him to thrive on his own merits, not on his DNA and presumptions of political royalty.
Legacy, in 2020, had more to do with what Ed Markey was able to aggregate in legislative accomplishments on important issues, the bacon he brought home to Massachusetts (even though he spends less time here than other members of the delegation) and, under the stewardship of campaign manager John Walsh, rewriting his long career into the progressive anthem of our day.
During the campaign, people came to understand that, if Biden wins and especially if Democrats tip the Senate, Ed Markey needs to be there to lead the charge on climate change. Sure, Joe Kennedy would vote the right way on the issue, but he didn’t have the creds on climate that Markey does.
I’ve covered Markey since his days as a lowly state rep with an office in the State House basement. My husband and I covered his first race for Congress in 1976. We still have his Communications Subcommittee’s “Options Papers” on telecommunications reform he gave us in 1977 and a thoughtfully inscribed copy of his 1982 book “Nuclear Peril” warning about the dangers of nuclear proliferation.
Markey has always been more of a workhorse than a show horse, getting into the weeds on important but unsexy issues. Decades ago, it was nuclear power, then carbon emissions as key to environmental regulatory reform, more recently technology issues like internet access and net neutrality. Usually the “issues” candidate appeals to wonky reporters but eventually loses. Not this time, largely because young people, frequently dismissed for talking a good game but failing to organize and vote, followed through, along with many veterans of the suspended presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Also significant was the endorsement message of Alexandra Ocasio Cortez: it’s not the age of the politician, but the age of his ideas that’s important. The Sunrise Movement, a national youth-led climate action group, which embraced Markey’s long and substantial record of environmental advocacy—and his co-authorship of the Green New Deal – was noteworthy. When our environmentally sensitive grandson said that all of his college-age friends were supporting Markey, we were initially skeptical, but they proved Noah’s point.
Markey’s exuberant election night speech focused largely on the young people. Over and over, he thanked them for their hard work in phone banks, social media and other organizing. He called the election “an undeniable mandate for action, and it is our young people who will lead the way.” It was the best speech I ever heard him give, going back to his 1976 campaign for House in a 12-person race he won with 22 percent of the vote.
In his remarks, Markey wove all of the most pressing issues of our day together, maintaining that “no solution to any challenge will be successful” unless climate change is addressed.
“There will be no peace, no justice, and no prosperity unless we stop the march to climate destruction,” he added. “This is a matter of life and death. The very future of our civilization depends upon it. There is no time for simply doing what we can. There is no time for compromise on the existential threat on our time.”
If Biden wins and the Democrats take the Senate, Ed Markey will be poised to lead the nation in the battles ahead.
Markey faces Republican candidate Kevin O’Connor on November 3. O’Connor supports Trump’s reelection. Need I say more?