By Aisha Sembhi
In the 1962 Massachusetts Senate election, Ted Kennedy, brother of President John F. Kennedy, stood against Edward J. McCormack Jr. for the Democratic nomination. In a debate, McCormack famously stated his opponent’s candidacy ‘would be a joke’ if he had run using a different surname.
Kennedy’s rivals did not shy away from the narrative that by using his family name and sibling relationships, he was propelling himself into an elected office he would not adequately fulfill. Despite these challenges, Kennedy won the primary, and eventually the Senate seat.
Over 50 years later, it would seem as though this driving force that comes alongside the Kennedy name has diminished. Unable to replicate his great-uncle’s resistance to accusations of nepotism, former Representative Joe Kennedy III lost his bid to secure to Massachusetts Democratic Senatorial nomination in early September.
He is the first Kennedy to lose an election in the state, bringing an end to an almost uninterrupted 73 years of the family’s presence in elected office.
He announced his bid one year ago, catalysing what has been perceived as a referendum on the acceptance of political dynasties in the United States. As the grand nephew of a President, the grandson of a Senator and the son of a Representative, Kennedy’s sudden Senate campaign certainly had an advantage in name recognition. Despite this, his opponent, incumbent Senator and the new found face of progressive politics, Ed Markey, won the primary comfortably by a margin of ten points.
As the campaign drew to a close, and Markey’s support showed no signs of decline, Kennedy made reference to his family name and the significance it carried, going so far as to publicise a picture of himself alongside his grandfather.
Kennedy’s advantage was not solely hypothetical, nor solely in name. He had financial backing that came through family lines, something few candidates to elected office have the luxury of. A Federal Election Commission filing recently confirmed that Kennedy’s father, Joe Kennedy II, donated $2 million from his own old 1988 campaign account to the ‘New Leadership’ PAC which exists in relation to Kennedy III’s candidacy.
Though Kennedy had previously denied any knowledge of family funding into his campaign, the extent to which this contribution is ‘fair’ will certainly be up for debate, as most spending scandals are. What is undeniable, is the immense and sudden financial advantage Kennedy had which exists only because of his family’s long-lasting success and legacy.
To the young Democrat electorate that secured Markey an almost guaranteed consecutive term in the Senate, Kennedy’s campaign reeked of entitlement. In an era where anti-establishment among young voters is more pronounced than ever, Kennedy’s tactic to capitalise on his family name and legacy fell short.
Nepotism has been an endemic within the United States since its inception. The Adamses, the Roosevelts, the Bushes – power being passed through generations is not a new phenomenon and is certainly not exclusive to the Kennedys.
Donald Trump’s children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, giving speeches at this year’s Republican Convention, despite having little to no background in politics or legislative procedure, illustrates this normalisation of dynastic politics, nepotism, and the undeniable potential of family connections dictating future leaders.
Compared to Markey, Kennedy is another unremarkable centrist career politician, building a career on the flimsy promise of compromise and bipartisanship that a frustrated electorate is not interested in. If Markey had been an ineffective legislator, and Kennedy had a genuine want to represent the people better, the candidacy may have stood a chance. But instead, his campaign reeked of entitlement and self-fulfilment.
His decision to seek out personal advancement has had only one single benefit – exposing a growing pattern of discontent with and disinterest in dynastic politics.
Image: Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) via Flickr