The Next Lion King?
January 09, 2012
by Sean Gonsalves
Cape Cod Times
Is anyone surprised Joseph Kennedy III has formed an "exploratory committee" to consider running for the soon-to-be-vacated congressional seat in the 4th District?
The idea of Bobby Kennedy's grandson running for Congress has been floating around the political water cooler for a while now. One signal the young Kennedy might be moving in that direction came when he gave a well-received speech on Beacon Hill last year, a week after the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Kennedy decried the "atmosphere of hate" poisoning the political climate in a way that had Senate President Therese Murray singing the praises of his oratorical skills.
Another hint came when he left the Cape and Islands district attorney's office last August to work for the Middlesex County DA. That office has been a springboard for Democratic candidates seeking national office. John Kerry came out of the Middlesex DA's office, as did Martha Coakley.
It also shouldn't come as a surprise that the announcement of his possible candidacy would be a story of national political interest, covered from coast-to-coast.
Asking around, reading online message boards, listening to the talking heads, one thing is clear. Most seem to be looking at Joe through the prism of his political forbears, prompting predictable responses like, "Oh please, spare us another Kennedy" to "That's exactly what we need - another Kennedy to be a lion for the underdog instead of all these sheepish, capitulating Democrats."
Whatever you may think about Bobby, JFK or Ted, bearing the family name is both a blessing and a curse.
As I often do when looking for perspective on Massachusetts politics, I called Sandwich resident Peter Ubertaccio, a political science professor at Stonehill College and director of the Martin Institute for Law and Society.
Ubertaccio was in Guatemala leading a group of students on an up-close study of Mayan culture. And even though he's been out of the country, he heard about Kennedy's announcement way south of the border. Alas, no doomsday prophecies.
"What we know about him now is that he represents the third generation of Kennedys hoping to achieve high political office. The name alone will allow for significant campaign fundraising and a strong organization," he told me via cell phone.
Name recognition aside, Ubertaccio said, if he does decide to run, he won't just ride into Camelot like some modern-day Sir Lancelot.
"We are living through a populist moment that has targeted entrenched power in D.C. He certainly has the pedigree but not a lot of experience."
Throw in that the recently re-drawn 4th District now includes some of the more conservative towns in southeastern Massachusetts, and the landscape may "look a little more red with people in that district who may not be all-too-pleased to see him reclaim a seat for the family."
Ubertaccio doesn't think Kennedy will try to ride his family coattails. "But that's certainly how it will be portrayed."
"This will be the first test of whether the Kennedy organization still works, now that the patriarch is no longer around."
Love him or hate him, Ted Kennedy was a unifying figure in Democratic politics. JFK and Bobby are almost mythical figures. But his father, Joe II? Well, let's just say he's not held in the same regard.
But what if Joe III did something unconventional, like run as an independent?
"That would be crazy," Ubertaccio said. "He'd be far less likely to win that way.
There are very few success stories of independents winning congressional seats. In Massachusetts, it's unheard of. The Democratic party is too strong in Massachusetts. And even in Massachusetts, the question that remains is: Can that Kennedy magic still work?"
It's too bad politics wasn't more like sports when it comes to kids following in their father's footsteps.
With few exceptions, the sons always seem to be far more gifted than their fathers, whether you're talking about Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, the Manning brothers or Kobe Bryant.
Political nepotism is often less about talent than name recognition. In sports, on the other hand, you might get a tryout because of your name. But you won't make it to the big leagues unless you can run, jump, catch and throw as well as or better than Dad.
At the very least, you have to be able to hit the ball out of the park.
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