Congressman Kennedy and the Health of Our Democracy

SINA NEMAZI: We are constantly reminded by GU Politics that “Public Service is a good thing; Politics can be too”. Congressman Kennedy constantly reminded us of this goal during his visit on Tuesday, November 13 in the Copley Formal Lounge.

Congressman Kennedy from Massachusetts’s 4th district started with the question “Is our Democracy Healthy?” The congressman responded with a defiant “No.” Kennedy asked whether it was functioning as well as it should. He still responded “No.”

Our Democracy will be healthy when everyone who is a part of our society decides to be part of the change. The congressman continually brought up Beto O’ Rourke and the recent sense of activism he instilled in his followers. Kennedy was clear that government needs to be about giving it our all. However, Beto fell to someone who does not campaign with such positivity. Our government, as Kennedy stressed, needs to engage and challenge us to do better as a society. If we want to wait for elected officials to fix problems, we will wait for a long time. We need to be the change that we seek. 

A student asked if politics at the moment is as polarized as it looks. Kennedy responded that it really depends on which level we look at, and that at the end of the day, issues are a question of culture. A problem with politics is imposing one’s culture on another’s way of life. He used the examples of rifles and how they may be part of one group’s cultural identity but that group should not impose them on someone else’s life.

Politics must become more positive-sum, instead of zero-sum.  We must fight for one another instead of picking sides. He used the same example from his rebuttal to the State of the Union: why must we choose either the single mother or the steel worker? Why not both? He made it clear that this country has a government that celebrates each person’s voice and identity regardless of the cost.  As he said, “We are not going to bargain away your identity”. These are civil rights that are guaranteed. As a congressman, Kennedy questions why Republicans feel the need to trade off either DACA or helping poor, sick kids. We can choose both. He says doing this requires rolling up the sleeves and championing all our positions. 

Another student asked where the polarization of our government really started. From the ensuing discussion, Kennedy seemed to suggest that “Obamacare” started this deep polarization. When you take the word “Obamacare” away, the polarization goes away. He observed that without the name “Obamacare”, there is more support for the program. Secondly, the Republican caucus chose to run against Obamacare, without fully realizing why. Kennedy stressed that no one thinks about healthcare until you need it, or your child needs it. Once you need treatment, healthcare is the only thing that you can think about. Kennedy believes that the richest, most powerful nation in the world should have access to healthcare and we need it at an affordable price. 

The conversation also focused on the idea of divided government. Kennedy said that in the new congress he hopes to work with Trump. He spends around 100 nights away from his kids to do this job; he wants to get stuff done. It would be a win for Trump to pass healthcare reform, but it also could be a win for the American people if Trump works with the Democrats to pass a reform that satisfies everyone. Kennedy hopes that there is nothing behind the tax returns and that Mueller’s indictments do not reach to the top of the Administration. He really hopes that there is no need to conduct oversight but rather to just work on passing bills to make America better. Subpoenas are the last piece of the process, not the fight. However, Democrats will do everything in their power to hold the administration accountable if there is solid evidence of wrongdoing.

Lastly, Kennedy discussed his idea of pursuit. We may not get to everything we want, or “happiness” as he put it, but we must keep fighting towards our goals. Persona matters, passion matters. Democrats should not just run on policy; they need to run on credibility. This way, they can earn trust and support.  They also must keep the family in mind when those decisions are made. If you have a vision, drive, and message, you can change America.


Side note: Kennedy always puts Georgetown in the Final Four in his March Madness brackets!

Max Magid