Opinions, Column

Dem. Senate Primary Shows Only Elite Can Win

Boston College alumnus Ed Markey defeated challenger Joe Kennedy III in the Democratic Primary for a Massachusetts Senate seat—making Markey the first man ever to defeat a Kennedy in a congressional vote on Massachusetts soil. Markey will be going head-to-head with Republican challenger Kevin O’Connor on Nov. 3 and is currently expected to easily take the election.

Despite Markey’s status as a long-time incumbent, the outcome of the election was unpredictable as both candidates had been endorsed by household names—Markey by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kennedy by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Ultimately, Kennedy couldn’t convince voters that Markey, an incumbent endorsed by progressives, should be ousted for the similar, but younger, challenger. 

At first glance, one might have seen virtue in this primary election, which looked like an exchange of ideas between an old sage and a young reformist—a race to see who was the better candidate. But in reality, it was just another tooth-and-nail fight in the old boys’ club, which unfortunately, happens ad nauseam in today’s America. 

Without term limits, we see the same people—Democrats and Republicans—wielding power year after year, and the only people who can challenge these candidates are others who already wield power and fame. They’re men like Kennedy, Markey, and Rep. Don Young, a Republican who has served in the house since 1973. With each year that the same individuals control the government, the U.S. Congress becomes increasingly totalitarian and decreasingly diverse. This is seen as career politicians—whose leadership becomes increasingly questionable as the years go on—become servants of their opinion rather than their people, as the governing body begins to lose variety in opinion, background, and age.  

Both Kennedy and Markey are what can only be described as American royalty. Their well-known names and years spent in the political spotlight have afforded them an unfair advantage in the campaigning world. 

Here is an idea of what Markey and Kennedy’s political legacies look like: Kennedy is the great-nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, the grandson of the former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and the heir to a long line of elected officials. The Kennedy family’s overall fortune, which spans almost three different last names and multiple branches of the family, was estimated by Forbes to be around $1 billion. At the young age of 39, Kennedy has already spent seven years as a congressman, and in the recent Massachusetts Democratic Senate primary, Kennedy was able to successfully gain a high-profile following and challenge an incumbent senator despite having no good reason for running. 

Markey, at age 74, has served in the House of Representatives and the Senate for a combination of more than four decades, and prior to that, he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. And while Markey’s adeptness as a candidate has been questioned by pundits, his myriad of years of fundraising, campaigning, and networking has allowed him to create an unbeatable political machine. Arguably, Markey and Kennedy have been able to succeed in the political arena over others in part due to their notoriety and ample access to funding rather than their political aptitude.

The Markey vs. Kennedy debate on Aug. 11 further highlighted the corruption that accompanies a political system that only allows the elite few to succeed. Rather than level-headedly discussing the topics salient to their constituents and elucidating their visions for the Senate, should one of them be elected, Markey and Kennedy wasted time slandering each other and arguing over where the other man got his money. 

This primary election is just one of many examples of the corruption that results from a lack of term limits. The issues that come with unchecked power are ubiquitous and non-discriminatory in nature. They occur on both sides of the fence: left-wing and right-wing. As the saying goes, “After a time, civil servants tend to become no longer servants and no longer civil.” That saying is manifesting itself in the U.S. government today.

Consequently, I argue that we have a governmental system in which it is very difficult for someone who is new to the political sphere or who is of lesser financial means to succeed in creating an influential or authoritative campaign—regardless of the fact that he or she may be the better candidate. Without fame or years of power under their belts, candidates have no feasible means to challenge politicians like Markey.

Today’s America seems to have forgotten about the precedent set by our first chief of state. After serving as the president of the United States for eight years, George Washington willingly surrendered his power and in his Farewell Address warned the American people that “the disorders and miseries which result [from party conflict] gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.” 

This admonition did not die with Washington. For centuries, others have warned of the dangers of unlimited and unchecked power, and yet our representatives allow the nation to continue to spiral downward without term limits.

One would think that the nation’s centuries-long inability to create term limits would necessarily mean that the initiative has gone unsupported by the public. But interestingly, a 2013 Gallup poll showed that 75 percent of Americans support the establishment of term limits. Yet, members of Congress have been unable or unwilling to successfully pass a bill creating them, abandoning the desires of those they are meant to represent. 

Without term limits, elections like the one between Kennedy and Markey will continue to be the status quo. But with them, we will see a more diverse and efficacious government and a freer America.

Featured Graphic by Ally Mozeliak / Heights Editor


September 14, 2020

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