Thursday, August 20, 2020

Unnecessary Fratricide: Markey vs. Kennedy

If I were in Massachusetts, I'd vote for Ed Markey to return to the Senate.

It's a pretty easy call for me, honestly. Markey has been a good progressive voice and leader in the Senate, and as a rule I don't generally support taking out incumbents who have good progressive voting records. Meanwhile, Joe Kennedy's voting record is also quite solid, but at best that puts him and Markey in equipoise -- which means I still haven't gotten a good account of why he should be replacing Markey other than "I'm a Kennedy and thus I should be a bigger deal than I am right now."

That said, I don't bear any ill-will towards Kennedy (except that which derives from him launching a seemingly-pointless primary challenge -- and I will say I agree that there is no good justification for Pelosi endorsing him). He seems like a perfectly fine Democrat as well. But of course, this is belatedly turning into yet another proxy war of "the Establishment" vs. "the outsiders" (whatever that means in the context of a guy who's in his fourth decade of congressional service). Now Kennedy is a tool of big oil or special interests or centrist lobbyists and we have to not just vote against him, but hate him as a threat to the Soul of the Party (one has to assume that DMFI is going to come in with a pro-Kennedy ad buy, because this is exactly the sort of fustercluck they seemingly can't resist jumping into for no reason).

In a way, this for me is the mirror-case of Engel/Bowman. Just as with Ed Markey, my view with Engel was that he had a good history and a good voting record, and in general I don't support taking out incumbents who have good histories and good records. But that didn't mean I bore any ill-will towards Bowman, who also seems like he is a good guy and will be a strong Democratic in the House. Yet there too, people just jammed the contest into these tired old boxes where either Engel is a tool of centrism and sell-outs (nope), or Bowman is a wild-eyed radical looking to personally deliver Iran a nuclear weapon they can drop on Israel (also nope).

I just can't stand it. I'm tired of intra-party fratricide. Even the worst Democrats -- and neither Ed Markey, nor Joe Kennedy, nor Eliot Engel, nor Jamaal Bowman, are anywhere close to "the worst Democrats" -- are light-years better than the death cult that is the Republican Party currently occupying the Oval Office and holding the majority in the Senate. The energy being expended over ultimately small-ball intra-party fights is a distraction, and it's a distraction we don't have time for.

At the end of the day, that's what Joe Kennedy's primary challenge is -- a distraction. It's a fight that isn't worth having right now, and one that he therefore does not deserve to win. So even though I don't find the concept of Senator Joe Kennedy to be outrageous, I hope Ed Markey wins, and I hope he does so decisively. And then I hope we can return to focusing on the big game.

1 comment:

Benjamin Lewis said...

Good point; not even clear what case Kennedy is making for voting for Kennedy, except something something 74 years old, which... I'm ruffled about that in the Presidential nomination, but a senator really seems fine?

2 tangential thoughts -
1. I fleshed out a reason for general presumption in favor of incumbents, and I wonder if you agree that it's true, agree that it's part of your reasoning on this topic: (one of) the most important incentives legislatures / government needs is the incentive to lead & act in the face of uncertainty. But the risks of acting from uncertainty are making mistakes and compromises. The threshold to oust an incumbent, therefore, needs to be high enough to allow minor and marginal errors that result from imperfect information, lest inaction be more strongly incentivized than action on reasonable predictions.
(Maybe you have already endorsed this rationale, but I don't remember seeing it if so; mostly I recall positive valuation of institutional memory/continuity.)

2. About NY CD-16: I live near here (CD-17), the school I work in is here. I thought Engel's position on the Iran Nuclear Deal (from seniority on the FR Committee, even!) justified overcoming incumbent presumption, but I agree with your assessment that this isn't actually what the primary race was about. I do also think it was actually pretty reasonable for constituents to look at Engel's 30 year career and ask "what have you accomplished for us", and choose someone else. Like, what has Eliot Engel accomplished? The primary seems to have established as an empirical fact that Engel was complacent about his nomination. It also seems that, at minimum, a CD-16 constituent was not unreasonable for looking at Engel's record and saying "this guy is complacent about doing his job of representing us, we need someone who will work harder for us." Yes he mostly had a progressive record on roll-call votes, but should really be the bare minimum of the job?