Can Joe Kennedy III Take Over the Family Business?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Aug. 23 2012 7:10 PM

The Next Kennedy

Can Joe Kennedy III take over the family business?

(Continued from Page 1)

Bielat spent $2.5 million and lost by only 10 points, in a district that had gone for Obama by 28 points. He built a massive email list and an online following. Trading Frank for Kennedy meant trading one high-profile race for another high-profile race. Inside his Foxboro, Mass., office, a supporter has dropped off a dog-eared copy of The Kennedy Men: Three Generations of Sex, Scandal and Secrets. That’s totally unofficial. On the wall, there’s a fundraising letter that tells donors “the only thing worse than Frank is another Kennedy!” That’s more official.

“Barney Frank brought 32 years of experience, chairman of House Financial Services, $4 million—obviously qualified for the job,” says Bielat. “This guy brings a name, and some money. If you ask most people around here what they know about Joe Kennedy, they can’t tell you a damn thing. His résumé is three years as a DA and two years in the Peace Corps and the Dominican Republic? There are direct flights from Logan to the Dominican Republic. It’s a tourist destination; he helped build up a tourism company. I don’t bear ill will towards the family. I bear ill will toward the idea that, in America, by virtue of your name, you can get into political office.”

Eventually, Bielat wants to talk policy. So does Kennedy. A few days after my quick visit to the district, I return to watch two candidate forums—Kennedy versus his Democratic primary foes, Bielat versus two other Republicans. Bielat’s race is a bit of a mismatch. Kennedy’s is just hilarious. One of his challengers is Rachel Brown, a Lyndon LaRouche cultist who won brief YouTube fame after she challenged Frank in a Q&A and he asked “what planet” she was from. The other is Herb Robinson, an engineer and blues musician who responds to nettlesome questions by saying, “Pass.”

Advertisement

Kennedy survives. But he doesn’t take chances. I’d asked him previously whether he’d try and move into the financial-services issues that Frank mastered, and whether he’d seek Frank’s committee assignments. Kennedy had pivoted immediately to a preferred issue, education, explaining that a healthy economic picture “starts with education, from early childhood education, access to that, to secondary education.” At the debate, Kennedy hits on the exact same lines. He skillfully evades a question about Citizens United and outside campaign spending by saying—truthfully—that it would be tough to amend the Constitution and change the disclosure standards. When he’s asked to think of a “funny” moment from the campaign trail, he’s legitimately stumped until he jokes that he “probably can’t talk about” whatever might have been funny.

After that, and a few Rachel Brown monologues about the economic benefits of space exploration, Kennedy’s done. He leaves without talking to reporters. Bielat gamely offers to help fill their notebooks.

“I enjoyed when Kennedy was talking about campaign finance reform,” says Bielat, “and with a straight face he said we needed to reform the system. This is a guy who’s out-raised everyone in Congress except John Boehner and Allen West.” The challenger happily feeds the David-vs.-Hyannisport narrative. “It’s like that famous quote that they said in the first race against Ted Kennedy. Change the name on his résumé, change the name on his signs, and nobody’s talking about him right now.”

Hang on, though—the guy who said that, Edward McCormack, looked like a hate-crazed jerk. Kennedy beat him like a drum.

“I know,” deadpans Bielat. “But that was a while ago.”

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.