Why is Joe Kennedy Running for Senate?

Bearing the Kennedy name is likely a difficult burden. It carries generations of political baggage, celebrity status, and a supposed family curse. However, being a Kennedy has its advantages too—namely enormous wealth one might use to buy their way into the Senate by primarying a perfectly fine Democratic senator.

That’s just what Joe Kennedy III is doing.

On its face, Kennedy’s primary of Senator Ed Markey looks like little more than cynical political ladder climbing. Upon further inspection, however, anyone can clearly see it’s definitely cynical political ladder climbing. There’s no discernible reason for Kennedy, who’s represented Massachusetts’ 4th District since 2013, to run for Senate except that he’s a Kennedy and he can afford to.

“As Kennedy argues, there’s no great ideological divide between him and Markey,” says Common Dreams editor and staff writer Eoin Higgins, “making the only conceivable reason for the run, entitlement. Frankly, it’s arguable that Kennedy is to the right of Markey, and that a number of his progressive positions have been taken as a reaction to criticism and a cynical approach to politics devoid of actual principle.”

Indeed Kennedy argues that he and Markey, the man he’s primarying, are equally progressive. There are more than a few marks on Kennedy’s relatively short record that imply otherwise—namely his anti-marijuana stance. In 2018, Kennedy essentially argued that decriminalizing marijuana would make it harder for cops to justify searching cars during vehicle stops. (He’s since walked it back.)

Kennedy also has some pretty overt conflicts of interest with big pharma. The Massachusetts Rep. owns around $1.7 million of stock in three major pharmaceutical companies, all of which are set to testify about COVID-19 vaccines before a House subcommittee on which Kennedy is impaneled. One of those companies, Gilead, has been widely criticized for using public money to research coronavirus treatments that it will resell to consumers at an astronomical markup. It’s not illegal for a Senator to own stock (or short sell it with knowledge of an oncoming pandemic, apparently—hey, Kelly Loeffler). However, Kennedy’s direct ties to one of the largest special interests in Washington is more than a little reason for pause.

Other criticisms of Kennedy’s campaign are more cosmetic. He regularly engages in vapid politispeak that sounds nice but essentially means nothing. His comments following his visit to a Black Lives Matter mural in Worcester, Mass. are a fine example. One constituent even said Kennedy “performatively” spoke Spanish during a campaign phone call despite clarifying to the congressman that he was fluent in English.

None of this condemns Kennedy outright. There’s a chance he turns out to be as progressive as he says he is. Unfortunately, his performative politics, big money donors, and clear connections to special interests don’t make it likely. The millions of dollars he’s raised would likely do a lot more to battle Republicans in toss-up states and Congressional districts around the country, not a reliable liberal in a likely blue seat.

But he’s a Kennedy and he’s going for it.

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