By Alex DiBlasi ’23
Promise is once again in the political air in Massachusetts after Congressman Joseph Kennedy announced his bid for the United States Senate. This District 4 representative from Newton captivated all of America when he gave his poignant Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s 2018 State of the Union Address from a vocational high school. Kennedy is challenging fellow democratic senator Edward Markey in the primary election, and aspires to be the third Kennedy elected to the U.S. Senate, his great-uncles, President John F. Kennedy and Senator Ted Kennedy, preceding him. I recently had the privilege to interview Representative Kennedy and discuss the soaring costs of college tuition, the mental health crisis, and the future of the Democratic Party.
The astronomical cost of earning a degree weighs heavily on the students here at The College of the Holy Cross, like it surely does across the Commonwealth. What is your realistic plan to help decrease student debt within the next four years?
“Students shouldn’t be leaving college with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt hanging over their heads. Not only is the skyrocketing cost of a college education pricing students out of a degree and limiting their opportunities after graduating, it’s draining our entire economy. That’s why I have cosponsored both the Student Loan Debt Relief Act and No Student Loan Interest Act to ensure that students are not driven into bankruptcy simply because they wanted to pursue a higher education.”
Mental health diagnoses are rising among college students in America. As this is not solely a college community issue, what should our government be doing to help combat this nationwide crisis?
“Our failure to fix a badly broken mental health system has devastating consequences in every corner of this country. Until we begin treating behavioral health issues the same way we treat heart disease or a broken arm, we will not make good on our promise to care for all patients equally. This means a complete overhaul in the way we treat mental and behavioral healthcare, including payment rates and reforms, expansion of telemedicine and robust loan forgiveness programs for providers. In addition, as we debate reforms in Congress, we should finally enact mental health parity by passing my Behavioral Health Coverage Transparency Act that would increase oversight, accountability and transparency in our mental health system.”
Why did you enlist in the Peace Corps after graduating Stanford University? What were you able to take away from your work in the Dominican Republic and apply to your life in political service?
“Every single day since I returned from the Dominican Republic, I have drawn on my experience in the Peace Corps, but there are two lessons I learned there that I draw on most. The first lesson is that too many communities, both in the Dominican Republic and here in the United States, are denied equal access to our laws and government. The young men I worked with there had been exploited not just by the tour companies that were underpaying them, but the government that turned a blind eye to those abuses. That was and is unacceptable in any country, our own included. The second lesson is that there is no substitute for trust in any community you serve. You need to listen and understand the challenges your neighbors face before you can begin to act.”
You have spoken about “moral capitalism” and how the Federal Government should intervene with new regulations and higher taxes in order to redistribute the wealth because it is not right that: “The average CEO makes 361 times what their average worker makes.” How would you shift corporations from no longer focusing on shareholder payouts to instead increase employee wages? Wouldn’t more taxes and additional corporate guidelines dissuade executives from growing their companies and entrepreneurs from creating new start-ups?
“For decades, our government has judged economic success by stock market heights and corporate profits, while wages stagnate and worker protections crumble. Investments in our social contract and higher wages are not mutually exclusive from economic success, in fact they are deeply intertwined. Economic justice requires reimagining our economic structures and passing bills like my Worker Dividend Act that lifts up American workers.”
I have heard numerous people state that the Democratic Party is no longer the same party that it was during the Kennedy-through-Clinton days, and cited that as the reason they voted for President Donald Trump in 2016. What would you say to those moderate Democrats who feel no connection to the Democratic party?
“A Democratic Party that fights for economic equality, climate justice, civil rights, LGBTQ+ equality, and universal health care is one that fights for all Americans. As I said during my response to the President’s State of the Union, we can choose both the mechanic in Pittsburgh and the daycare worker in Birmingham. It’s on us to make the case that we will show up and demand dignity for all Americans, and that the policies we put forth will strengthen their present and their family’s future.”
It is the year 2024 and you are President of the United States. What are the top items on your “to do” list for the first 100 days?
“I think I have too much on my plate in 2019 to even imagine that scenario, but here are the top items on my current to do list: convince my kids to sleep soundly through a single night, show up in as many Massachusetts communities as physically possible, and continue my work in Washington on behalf of my constituents in the 4th District.”
Congressman Kennedy’s campaign promises to bring a “strong moral leadership” to Washington, D.C. and fix a system which is broken for many. Many say his road to the Senate will not be an easy one, as there is little policy difference between him and the popular incumbent, Senator Edward Markey. However, according to a recent Suffolk University-Boston Globe poll, Congressman Kennedy is ahead of Senator Markey with 42% of the votes. While his political family legacy is humbling to him, Congressman Kennedy’s mantra is truly inspirational. His youth and optimism shine a bright light on the future of Massachusetts.