Congressman Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts delivered the Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address last week. Speaking to a small audience in Fall River, Massachusetts, Kennedy elicited a range of responses during CNN’s live Facebook stream. One of the most-liked comments on the stream came from an older man who said he “closed his eyes and heard him.” Other commenters were quick to agree that Joe Kennedy III sounded like his great-uncle, the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy.
The congressman from Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District since 2013 is an up-and-coming “hot shot” for the Democrats. Before his speech last week, Kennedy was well-known among Democrats for his speeches on topics like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). As he showed in his response to the State of the Union address, he is well- trained in public speaking. That is one factor among many making Joe Kennedy III a compelling candidate to become the new face of the Democrats.
The 2016 election should have taught candidates that they have to be more personable with their audiences. While presidential nominees have historically aspired to sound “presidential,” both Trump and Senator Sanders broke that supposed law of politics to address people more directly—and the people loved it. Likewise, many voters responded negatively to Secretary Clinton’s poised and controlled mannerism, often calling her robotic.
So how did the youngest Kennedy elicit such positive responses from viewers? As I continued to watch his speech, I couldn’t help thinking how he sounded like a politician yet genuine at the same time. His tone strongly resembled that of his great-uncle JFK, who successfully addressed Americans in this style. I concluded that Joe Kennedy III is an enigma; he is a non-traditional “establishment” candidate.
I realize this sounds counter-intuitive. How could the grandson of Robert Kennedy not be an establishment candidate? Nothing short of marrying a Bush or a Clinton could increase the prominence of Kennedy III’s political lineage. For good reason, the name evokes images of the kind of inherited political aristocracy that many voters are weary of. But just like his great-uncle, Joe Kennedy was able to differentiate himself from the Democratic establishment. He spoke in Spanish when addressing the Dreamers, sounding thankful to his audience and emotional — without a hint of robotics! In his response to Trump’s speech, he found an effective combination, maintaining a professional tone while still addressing voters as equals.
Of course, not everyone enjoyed the speech. Many viewers dismissed Kennedy as just another son of a wealthy political family. And Sanders, too, crafted a response to the State of the Union that sent a counter-establishment message. I am not saying the junior congressman is the next president, even if “Joe Kennedy III 2020” is a popular Google search. As anyone else should, I want to hear more about his stances and his plans for the future before coming to a conclusion. Nonetheless, I believe the Democrats have found a good candidate in Kennedy III. He presents an interesting message by combining the qualities of a well-spoken politician and a young, ambitious ordinary American. The Democrats picked the best contender to deliver a response to President Trump. Only time will tell if there will soon be another Kennedy sitting in the Oval Office.