By: Kimberly Tan, ’17, and Maddie Hawkinson, ’17
On October 1, 2013, the government officially closed for the first time since 1996 as a result of arguments over the Affordable Care Act and the debt crises. The shutdown lasted 18 days and resulted in harsh media criticism. On October 16, 2013, President Obama signed the provisional settlement to end the shutdown, an agreement that temporarily raised the debt ceiling to fund the government until early 2014.
U.S. Representative Joseph P. (“Joe”) Kennedy (D-MA) spoke at a SIG brunch in fall quarter about his experiences growing up, attending Stanford and running for Congress. Congressman Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, graduated from Stanford with a management science and engineering degree in 2003. In November 2012, he won the congressional race for Massachusetts’s 4th district, and was sworn into the 113th U.S. Congress on January 3, 2013.
As a new member of an increasingly polarized Congress, he argued that young people should not lose faith in the value of public service. Representative Kennedy spoke to the strength of SIG’s mission: to encourage political awareness and the pursuit of public service opportunities.
He noted, “There is something inherently rewarding about being able to directly serve people as a public servant.” In a time of gridlock and political chaos like this, Kennedy stressed that it was more important than ever for students to become engaged with public affairs. Congressman Kennedy also described the struggle between a congressperson’s duty to represent those who elected him or her and the responsibility to compromise. He offered his opinion that the shutdown was a sad consequence of each member of Congress striving to represent his or her own constituents.
Although the shutdown is over, the issues that led to it are still present. According to Kennedy, healing the partisan divide within Congress is a necessary step for healing America. It is crucial for people to voice concerns and compel legislators to take cooperative action. And, Kennedy took a first cooperative step later that afternoon when he and his wife, who is a UCLA graduate, attended the Stanford vs. UCLA football game together despite “irreconcilable differences.”
“If that’s not bipartisanship,” he joked at the end of his talk, “I don’t know what is.”
Congressman Joe Kennedy participates in the question and answer session after the SIG brunch with Chair Meredith Wheeler.