Rep. Joe Kennedy III isn’t concerned about the so-called “electability” of Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Rather, he thinks his fellow Massachusetts Democrat has the perfect antidote to President Donald Trump.
“The single biggest issue out there — the issue that links challenges and inequities in our health care system to our education system to our inability to address climate change to the political polarization that we are seeing — is the fact that our economy has become unbalanced,” Kennedy told Boston.com in an interview.
It’s an issue that Warren has been focused on for “literally decades,” Kennedy says, long before he was a student in her Harvard Law School class, listening to the former bankruptcy law professor lecture about “adhesion contracts” and payday lenders.
“This is not just a political issue for her, right?” he said. “This is literally something that is in her blood and in her bones.”
Warren’s lifelong advocacy to rebalance the scales of the economic and political systems toward working class citizens is the top reason that the 38-year-old Massachusetts congressman endorsed her 2020 presidential campaign last weekend. And while some Democratic voters’ worries about Warren’s chances in a general election — whether it be due to her claims of Native American ancestry or her unapologetically progressive policy proposals — have existentially loomed above the early stages of her primary campaign, Kennedy downplayed those considerations.
“I think she is the only candidate, that I know of anyway, in this field that has put down policy responses and legislative responses to these systemic inequities in a way that’s not just saying ‘Hey’ — and this is obviously critically important — ‘let’s raise the minimum wage or let’s strengthen rights to collectively bargain,'” he said, commending Warren for “leaning into” the debate around some of her more ambitious ideas.
Kennedy says that Warren’s “Accountable Capitalism Act” very much aligns with his recent calls for “moral capitalism” in the way it seeks to gets corporations to consider the interests of all stakeholders, as opposed to solely profits. And despite coming from a family of great generational wealth, Kennedy says her proposed wealth tax is “not unreasonable.”
“I think there’s different ways to perhaps do that,” he said. “I candidly haven’t laid out a tax proposal around areas of capital gains and marginal tax rates and all the rest of it, so I don’t know exactly what my conception of that would be. But I think it absolutely deserves to be on the table and out for discussion.”
Kennedy says he hasn’t gone through the fine details of Warren’s wealth tax proposal — which puts a 2 percent annual tax on household assets, like stocks and real estate, beginning at $50 million — and notes that it would first have to be appropriately vetted by Congress.
But with those caveats, he thinks Warren is fairly shining a light on the country’s “enormous aggregation of wealth” and looking at ways to “ensure that we still remain a country of economic mobility.”
“I think that idea absolutely deserves to be on the table and in the discussion as to what reforms are necessary to get our tax code to ensure that our country remains a place where every single person has access to economic opportunity and that our government has the resources to make good on that promise,” Kennedy said.
While he is hardly going so far as to endorse Warren’s proposal, Kennedy says he’s concerned that the concentration of wealth could be clouding out opportunity for wide swaths of the country.
A recent University of California paper found that wealth concentration in the United States — in which the richest 400 Americans are worth more than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent — “seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties.” And previous research has indicated that increased wealthy inequality stifles economic mobility.
Kennedy points to local examples — like Phillips Lighting’s decision to outsource 160 jobs in Fall River, despite recording nearly a half-billion dollars in profits and stock buybacks — and national cases, like GM’s recent rounds of layoffs, as troubling evidence.
“What we have today is an economy where folks that have done very well are doing enormously well, while the vast majority of Americans struggle to find $400 in a time of emergency, when 7 million Americans are more than three months behind on a car loan, when there are nearly 20 million people in extreme poverty — in the most powerful nation on earth,” he said.
“The single message of Donald Trump’s administration is that that level of economic anxiety is somebody’s else fault,” Kennedy continued. “And he has been brilliant at pitting one slice of American society against the other and saying it’s the other guy’s fault. It’s a divide and conquer political strategy. It’s crass. It’s crude. But it can be devastatingly successful.”
During her announcement speech last weekend, Warren said that Trump was “not the cause of what’s broken” but just “the latest — and most extreme — symptom of … a rigged system that props up the rich and the powerful.” Given her expertise and experience, Kennedy says he is convinced that Warren is the ideal candidate to tell the story of how those structural aspects allow the wealthy to take more than their share while the rest of society is left “to fight over scraps.”
“What we need is someone who can actually explain and motivate Americans to see that there really is more than just scraps to begin with,” he said.