People are deeply depressed by the state of the presidential race—at least we have a debate to look forward to??—so getting invested in Massachusetts state politics felt like a nice diversion. Sen. Ed Markey’s defeat of Joseph Kennedy III by around 10 points on Tuesday night, months after the conventional wisdom was that Kennedy would roll over Markey without breaking a sweat, also yielded a sorely needed win for a left (I’m being generous, more on that later) beaten into submission by Bernie Sanders’ loss.
But to read the postmortem from Wednesday night on Politico is to believe the left naively threw its weight behind a candidate who violated that which matters most—our purity politics—when there was a perfectly good Kennedy right there.
The story opens like this, which, all that touchy-feely stuff about “ideology” or “standing for literally anything” aside, seems to provide a nearly sufficient explanation for Kennedy dogging it:
BOSTON — The question seemed to trail him everywhere, from the day Joe Kennedy announced he’d challenge Sen. Ed Markey in the Democratic primary to the final hours of the campaign: Why are you running?
In a year of campaigning across Massachusetts, Kennedy never seemed to come up with a satisfactory answer. In the end, he simply gave up trying.
Boy—sure sounds like an empty suit of a candidate! Better continue on with hundreds of words explaining why he lost before eventually settling on blaming the left yet again.
Politico’s story would have you believe that the lefties who rallied behind Markey have been had—and, worse still, that they once again used their populist organizing powers for ill. The story continues (emphasis mine):
As young activists churned out pro-Markey memes and videos, he brought them into the fold as digital fellows. It helped that Markey won endorsements from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, his partner on the Green New Deal, and the Sunrise Movement. The Markey campaign spent almost half a million dollars airing an ad that only featured AOC, and not Markey, in the weeks leading up to the primary.
As Markey’s popularity grew, so did frustration within the Kennedy campaign.
In Kennedy’s eyes, Markey’s new image didn’t square with his record, which was more in line with Joe Biden than Sanders or Warren. Kennedy often pointed to Markey’s support of the 1994 crime bill and the Iraq War on the debate stage, but that didn’t matter to Markey’s energetic online base.
“The Markey campaign did a masterful job convincing voters Ed is someone he is not,” one Democratic strategist with Massachusetts ties said after the primary results were tallied.
Don’t miss “energetic online base” being used as an anti-Bernie, anti-left dog whistle, coupled with the implication that the Bernie Bros loved to crow about Saint Bernard having a slightly cleaner record on the crime bill and the Iraq War than Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton, but when it’s our guy, enforcing the same standard is out the window. (Side note: In an ever-changing, increasingly homogeneous media landscape, imagine what a loss it would be if there ceased to be a home for such critical sources as “one Democratic strategist with Massachusetts ties” to bitch anonymously.)
Back to Kennedy: it’s not like he launched a campaign against Markey because he was so outraged by Markey’s record. He did it because he saw something he wanted and Markey was standing in his way. Also, I’m no psychic, but I’d bet a limb where Kennedy’s votes would’ve fallen if he’d had the opportunity to vote for either that infamous crime bill or Forever War in the Middle East.
I also violently chafe at the idea that Team Markey running a campaign ad heavily featuring AOC—after she endorsed Markey—is somehow cheating or otherwise underhanded. That’s politics, baby, and these are sour grapes, plain and simple.
But let’s get to the worst of it. Again via Politico, emphasis mine:
Kennedy advisers concede that the campaign should have gone negative earlier and defined the incumbent while his polling numbers were low. But the campaign also blamed the press and the left wing of the party for giving Markey a free pass to reinvent himself.
“This goes to show you that the left doesn’t do their homework and they’re easily won over by bright shiny objects,” said one Kennedy ally.
Ah! “One Kennedy ally” believes the gullible left can be won over by such shiny new toys as “let’s take action before we all die in the climate apocalypse.” While I don’t buy that the media was in the tank for Markey over Kennedy, journalists did play a role in JK3 becoming the first Kennedy to lose Massachusetts by covering all the increasingly dumb shit he said and did. They covered the Kennedy campaign trying to make “Markey Bros” happen. They covered Kennedy’s campaign manager desperately claiming that, owing to online harassment, they were fielding multiple serious death threats a day. They also covered that same campaign manager—apparently forgetting that he was working for one of the last American political dynasties—unleashing a screed about the Boston Globe’s “disproportionately white, well-off, well-educated” readership after the paper endorsed Markey. This is the definition of giving someone enough rope to hang themselves with, and Kennedy did it again and again.
But, as ever, it’s easier to blame the left than to look inward. Liberals hate when the left won’t make the same deals with the devil that they will—something they reframe as the left simply not “getting” how politics works—but even more so, they hate that the left still has enthusiasm and that it was a deciding factor in this race. I’ve thought about this a lot since Bernie dropped out: Biden supporters are still trying to spike the football on Bernie people—to no avail—because, even though most Bernie people will still vote Biden come Election Day, we refuse to fully submit by admitting that we were stupid to believe in demanding more from our politicians. Liberals are also clearly flummoxed by the notion that, although Sanders has now endorsed Biden, the Bernie Bros’ enthusiasm couldn’t immediately be assimilated and weaponized by the Biden campaign.
There isn’t a particularly strong American left, and what exists certainly isn’t a monolith, but liberals punching left will always be a time-honored pastime. They should consider this: Maybe we just hate your guy more than we hate our guy. It’s not our fault you backed such a bum horse! We know Markey is no Bernie, but we know he’s no Kennedy, either. And in this race, that was more than enough.