August 12th, 2020


Another Kennedy, Another New Frontier --- And A Good Time For Trump To Evoke JFK

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published Jan. 30, 2018

Another Kennedy, Another New Frontier --- And A Good Time For Trump To Evoke JFK

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask if you can survive another wave of Kennedy nostalgia.

It's coming Tuesday night, right after Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III — grand-nephew of the three Kennedy males who cast a long shadow over national politics for the better part of six decades — delivers the Democratic response to President Trump's State of the Union Address.

About the latest in the long line of Kennedys in Congress: he's Democratic Viagra, plain and simple.

In addition to the family heritage, Kennedy's Stanford roommate famously came out of the closet. The future congressman served in the Peace Corps and speaks Spanish. He met his future wife at Harvard Law (shades of both the Obamas, likewise Harvard Law alumni, and the Clintons and their Yale Law love story).

Cherry on the progressive sundae: Elizabeth Warren taught the class where the future Congressman and Mrs. Kennedy crossed paths.

Of course, there's a flip side to Kennedy's star-turn: haters of the clan will find it hard to resist taking a pot shot.

Here's an easy one: Rep. Kennedy, a product of the decidedly high-end Buckingham, Browne & Nichols School (tuition a shade under $46,000 for students in grades 9-12), will deliver his response from Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Fall River, Massachusetts, with students and other locals in the audience.

The last Kennedy male to attend a public school other, other than to shill for votes?

Then again, if the haters can put aside the animosity, they'll realize Kennedy is a wise choice for his party's response. Though mostly anti-Trump in his congressional voting record, Kennedy didn't side with a Democratic hard-left that wanted to begin impeachment proceedings. The Trump tax cut? Kennedy didn't cast a vote.

And, if Kennedy can remind his party faithful of a fabled past, it's far better than looking at a current crop of Democratic presidential wannabes that's not exactly awe-inspiring.

Here's a suggestion for President Trump: though his speech is all but guaranteed to get better ratings than Kennedy's response (it's the nature of the beast — presidential address almost always outshine whomever the party out-of-power puts forward), he should do consider pre-empting JPK3 . . . with a little JFK.

If I were drafting Trump's speech, I'd take a look back at what John F. Kennedy had to say, on Jan. 14, 1963, in what would turn out to be his final annual address to Congress.

Warning: the address isn't brief. At almost 5,400 words, it's in the same ballpark as the one Trump delivered last year (a little over 5,000 words).

JFK divided his speech into nine sections, not all applicable to this day and age (section eight, for example, is a lot of lofty talk about the Free World vs. Communism).

But one passage stands out — what Kennedy had say to about infrastructure:

"Our economic health depends on healthy transportation arteries; and I believe the way to a more modern, economical choice of national transportation service is through increased competition and decreased regulation. Local mass transit, faring even worse, is as essential a community service as hospitals and highways. Nearly three-fourths of our citizens live in urban areas, which occupy only 2 percent of our land-and if local transit is to survive and relieve the congestion of these cities, it needs Federal stimulation and assistance."

Quoting Kennedy would be an interesting twist, given that: (a) Eisenhower is the post-World II president most closely associated with infrastructure; and (b) whereas JFK was a Democratic president was trying to sell a Democratic Congress on the notion of building "transportation arteries", Trump's in the same boat 55 years later when trying to get to buy-in from a GOP Congress.

And if Trump wants to do a deeper Kennedy dive: Fall River, the site of Joe Kennedy's response, is part of a long-anticipated plan to expand commuter rail service south from Boston — a plan that was part of last week's State of the State Address by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. It's a state initiative, but Trump could cite it as evidence of how Washington could be following the states' lead.

There's one other Kennedy card to play, but Trump should avoid it. Joseph P. Kennedy III was born in 1980, 17 years after JFK's last year in office. He never knew his great-uncle. Then again, his great-uncle might not recognize today's Democratic Party, what with its lack of southern representation, disdain for the marketplace, and disconnect with the cultural and economic impulses of blue-collar, non-coastal America.

The younger Kennedy will try to regain some of that trust on Tuesday night.

Call it what it is: another Kennedy, another New Frontier.

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.