In theory, the State of the Union rebuttal speech is supposed to be the launching pad for a rising star from the opposition party. During the eight years President Obama was in office, the rebuttal speech served as an annual reminder that the Republican Party had no one of any merit or competence in its bullpen, which is how it got stuck with an outsider and demented traitor like Donald Trump as its 2016 nominee. However, last night, we finally saw a rebuttal speech worth watching for reasons other than making fun of it.
We’ve all been hearing the hype about Joe Kennedy III for a few years now. But was it simply because he’s the grandson of RFK, or was it because he was able to live up to the enormous expectations? Thanks to his speech last night, we got a rather definitive answer. Kennedy knew precisely how to strike a tone that appealed to those on the left and to those in the middle. He passionately connected on a number of key liberal issues, without sounding like an ideologue or a one-issue candidate. He’s someone whom everyone in the mainstream can rally behind, and no one can find a real problem with. It sets up a fascinating dynamic.
Joe Kennedy is just thirty-seven years old. He’s new on the national scene. Is he ready to run for President of the United States in three years? Was that even why he was chosen for the rebuttal speech? Earlier this month the Democrats added two of their de facto top contenders for 2020, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, to the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee so they could begin fleshing out their national profiles while using the committee’s Russia probe to hammer away at Trump.
So if that’s how the Democratic Party is showcasing its 2020 heavyweights, then what was it looking to accomplish by pushing a fresh face like Joe Kennedy out there for the State of the Union rebuttal? Maybe it was just a way of establishing him nationally for general future purposes. Maybe it was a way of diplomatically not giving it to one of the heavyweights over the others. Or maybe Kennedy really is looking to outdo his great uncle JFK by becoming the youngest President of the United States in history. Three years is a long time. One way or the other, this was a good night for the Democratic Party.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report