Rep. Joseph Kennedy: ‘We Choose Both’

For the first time in quite a while, the person who responded to the State of the Union speech is getting pretty good reviews. It appears that Rep. Joseph Kennedy III has finally broken the curse. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to listen to what he had to say.

Compared to the president, those who give the response don’t have the time to speak in much detail. Kennedy dealt with that last night by laying out a vision rather than a laundry list of policies—something that Democrats have been missing in the last couple of years. Here is the heart of the vision Kennedy offered:

Many have spent the past year anxious, angry, afraid. We all feel the fault lines of a fractured country. We hear the voices of Americans who feel forgotten and forsaken…

And that nagging, sinking feeling, no matter your political beliefs: this is not right. This is not who we are…

This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us – they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection.

For them, dignity isn’t something you’re born with but something you measure…

Their record is a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count. In the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government.

That is the American promise.

But today that promise is being broken. By an Administration that callously appraises our worthiness and decides who makes the cut and who can be bargained away.

They are turning American life into a zero-sum game.

Where, in order for one to win, another must lose…

We are bombarded with one false choice after another:

Coal miners or single moms. Rural communities or inner cities. The coast or the heartland.

As if the mechanic in Pittsburgh and the teacher in Tulsa and the daycare worker in Birmingham are somehow bitter rivals, rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged for those at the top.

As if the parent who lies awake terrified that their transgender son will be beaten and bullied at school is any more or less legitimate than the parent whose heart is shattered by a daughter in the grips of opioid addiction.

So here is the answer Democrats offer tonight: we choose both. We fight for both. Because the strongest, richest, greatest nation in the world shouldn’t leave any one behind.

I can’t help but think of the endless discussions among Democrats following the 2016 election about the party’s over-reliance on identity politics and the need to reach out to white working class voters. That, too, is a zero sum game. It accepts the divisiveness that Republicans have injected into our politics without question. Democrats don’t have to buy into that framework. As Kennedy demonstrated so eloquently, we can choose both.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.