In a recent campaign email, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) wrote that “his top priority is making sure he’s protecting your conservative values from the Socialist Left!”
But through his brief time in Washington, D.C. as a Republican, and his long career in Baton Rouge as a Democrat, Kennedy has proven he does not represent the best interests of Louisiana residents.
So much of the Kennedy persona is a calculated façade. Perhaps there is no greater lie than his claim to fight for everyday people, unlike his colleagues who instead, Kennedy says, champion the “Washington elite.”
While the senator may like to portray himself as an outsider fighting for the little guy, the money that put him in office tells a different story. As a representative of the second poorest state in the union, 77.15% of his campaign funds came from large dollar donations and 13.01% came from Political Action Committees. Kennedy has taken tens of thousands of dollars from PACs representing law firms, real estate and, most of all, oil and gas.
It’s hard to believe his complaints that the government is run by corrupt elites are genuine when Kennedy himself is a career politician launched into higher office by high dollar donors and special interest groups.
Kennedy says that Louisiana residents can count on him to stick by his values, but it seems those values change with whatever is politically advantageous.
Though Kennedy’s website claims he “has built a distinguished career as a conservative champion for the people of Louisiana and a dedicated watchdog of taxpayer money,” he first ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004 as a progressive Democrat. Roy Fletcher, a Republican consultant involved with several of the senator’s campaigns, says Kennedy only ran to the left in 2004 to distinguish himself from a crowded Democratic field.
Fletcher offers this explanation as something that “exonerates” Kennedy from his Democratic past, but it instead confirms something sinister: For the senator, policy positions and priorities are not real convictions, but instead pawns to gain political power and favorability.
Nothing exemplifies this guiding principle more than Kennedy’s devotion to former president Donald Trump. Kennedy was one of 10 Republican senators to sign a statement declaring his intent to vote against the certification of the 2020 presidential election, citing unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud. Only days later, a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol shocked the world. Though Kennedy condemned the riots his misinformation helped incite, he still voted to decertify Arizona’s electoral votes, despite an audit that found no evidence of Trump’s claims of fraud.
Kennedy, a Rhodes scholar who studied at Oxford University and is a product of some of the most elite educational institutions in the world, understood perfectly well that the election was not stolen from Trump. What he understood even better, though, were the political fortunes he would gain among the former president’s fervent base by playing into “Stop the Steal.” When posed with the choice of integrity or self-interest, the senator chose the latter.
The senator clings to other culture war issues with similar malintent. Kennedy says that critical race theory ‒ the newest Republican talking point ‒ ”teaches that white children are born bad” and that “Black children are born trapped.” Kennedy’s views on race in America can be summarized by his belief that “most Americans understand that, to a bear, we all taste like chicken.”
Missing from his insidious soundbites is an acknowledgement of the historic and modern systems and practices ‒ including the legacy of Jim Crow, mass incarceration and police brutality, housing discrimination and unequal access to quality education ‒ that perpetuate social and economic inequality for Black Americans. But of course, Kennedy is more interested in riling up the Fox News crowd than he is the truth or improving the lives of his constituents.
Kennedy’s fiscal conservatism is to the severe detriment of the state ‒ and starkly contrarian to his populist mask.
In May, Kennedy boasted that he “tried to amend the very first coronavirus bill to eliminate the $600-dollar-per-week payment” that went to the unemployed, saying the benefit went “too far.” These $600 a week benefits were essential in keeping food on the tables of American families, stimulating the recession economy and preventing further plunges into poverty brought on by the pandemic. Not only that, but economic research consistently found they did not discourage the unemployed from finding work.
Despite this proven success, Kennedy would have preferred the hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents that relied on these increased benefits to suffer in the name of fiscal conservatism. This same Kennedy supported Trump’s trillion dollar tax cut for the wealthy and other Trump-era corporate handouts.
Louisiana deserves representation laser-focused on improving the economic and environmental problems that plague the state. Since his election to the Senate, Kennedy has proven himself more concerned with soundbites than solutions.
For these reasons and many more, Kennedy’s first term must be his last.
Claire Sullivan is an 18-year-old coastal environmental science sophomore from Southbury, CT.