by Cole Harrison
Massachusetts Peace Action has endorsed Sen. Edward Markey for reelection in 2020. Markey has a strong progressive track record on issues of peace and foreign policy. Markey is a champion on nuclear disarmament, opposes U.S. military interventions, favors cuts in Pentagon spending, and is an important leader on climate change.
Markey is the unquestioned leader in the US Senate on nuclear disarmament, at a time when the US and Russia are tearing up the few remaining arms control treaties and heading into a dangerous new nuclear arms race. Year after year, he has championed legislation to cut our insane nuclear weapons arsenal, to prevent development of new and more dangerous weapons, and to put controls on their use.
Markey’s concern about nuclear issues began at an early age. His father was a milkman. As a high school student, the teenage Markey did his science fair project on Strontium-90, a byproduct of early atomic weapons testing that was poisoning the milk supply. He has also been a consistent critic of the lax safety standards in the US commercial nuclear power industry.
Now, the Senator is playing a leading role in opposing war with Iran. On January 10, Markey held a joint press conference with Mass. Peace Action and VoteVets announcing that he and 23 House and Senate colleagues were sending a letter to President Trump calling for restraint in dealing with Iran. The letter outlines five steps that the Administration could take to avert further tragic loss of life and the expenditure of billions of taxpayers’ dollars. They include requiring authorization from Congress for any military action against Iran; providing Americans and Congress the supporting intelligence of imminent threat that justified General Qassem Suleimani’s killing without Congressional approval; engaging in risk-reduction talks with the Iranians; affirming that the Administration’s goal is not regime change and the Iranian people alone must determine their own future; and ceasing threats of war crimes, such as attacking Iranian cultural sites. Read our statement at the press conference.
Markey’s main challenger is Rep. Joe Kennedy III. The Kennedy name carries great weight in Massachusetts; the family’s legacy has guaranteed him a strong standing in the polls and the ability to attract big money and establishment support. Some in the press say Markey and Kennedy are both progressive, with little difference in their policies. We strongly disagree. The two have significantly different positions on issues of peace and foreign policy. Markey is a peace advocate; and Kennedy often avoids taking stands or supports a more hawkish approach.
Kennedy has said little and done less about nuclear disarmament. Only recently, after starting to talk about his campaign, did he bother to sponsor the bill to prevent President Trump from starting a nuclear war without Congress – the Markey-Lieu bill, HR.669. To this day, Kennedy hasn’t cosponsored Rep. Adam Smith’s No First Use bill, HR.921, or the Hold the LYNE bill, HR.1086, to prevent deployment of new, dangerous, low-yield nukes, or any other bill to step away from the danger of nuclear war.
Markey is a cosponsor of the No War with Iran bill, S.1039; after launching his campaign for Senate, Kennedy signed on to cosponsor the corresponding House version, HR.2354. At a time when the Administration is openly moving to provoke a new, disastrous conflict with Iran, Kennedy is following, rather than leading, in the effort to impede the Trump Administration’s flirtation with a dangerous new war in the Middle East.
To prevent the Trump administration from turning its hawkish rhetoric on Venezuela into action, Markey sponsored a bill to prevent a US military action there, S.J.Res. 11. Kennedy has declined to cosponsor the House equivalent, HR.1004.
Markey has consistently supported efforts to reduce our runaway military spending, which saps over $1 trillion a year from the federal budget. For years, he has backed the People’s Budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which would cut military spending and redirect the funds to programs that meet human needs. Kennedy, after multiple years of opposing the People’s Budget, has recently come around to supporting it.
Today, the climate emergency is a critical peace issue. The US military is the single largest institutional emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet, ahead of most entire countries. And without international cooperation, the world won’t be able to come together to solve the climate crisis. Markey’s leadership in the fight for a Green New Deal shows that he understands the importance of this issue, while Kennedy has done little to advance it.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who worked with Markey to introduce the Green New Deal, has thrown her support behind his candidacy, noting that Kennedy is being helped by former US Rep. Joseph Crowley, the centrist Democrat she defeated last fall. In a recent email to her supporters, she wrote: “While Ed Markey is fighting for the Green New Deal in the Senate, Joe Kennedy is getting campaign support from Crowley hosting a high-dollar fundraiser…Kennedy thinks that with the backing of the establishment and the old guard of the Democratic Party, he can beat a progressive champion for justice.”
Both Markey and Kennedy are behind the times on Palestinian human rights. Markey was a cosponsor last year of S.Res.120, a bill that condemns and seeks to punish free speech boycotts of Israeli occupation. Kennedy is no better. Still, Markey has shown that he can listen: after hesitating up to the last minute, he voted against S.1, an even more dangerous anti-Palestinian bill, in January 2019.
In addition, Markey sometimes seems to share the mindset, all too common in Washington D.C, that it’s America’s job to police the world and coerce regimes to do what our government wants. He goes along with the majority of Democrats in supporting sanctions on Iran, Korea, and Venezuela that cause enormous suffering for the people of those countries, while failing to promote justice and peace in those regions. (Kennedy supports those same sanctions, as far as we can tell.) However, in these cases Markey has not supported military invasions or reckless regime-change rhetoric, a welcome relief in the current political climate.
Kennedy has little to say on most foreign policy issues; he follows the Democratic establishment and does not lead on any peace issues that we’ve seen. His April 2018 article in Foreign Affairs is a cautious restatement of the tired and hollow Washington maxim that “America must lead.”
Markey is a bold progressive leader on nuclear disarmament, opposing military interventions, cutting the military budget, and the Green New Deal, while Kennedy is, for the most part, a comfortable centrist. Also running is Shannon Liss-Riordan, a workers’ rights attorney with an impressive record. While she is celebrated in her field, she has an uphill climb to establish name recognition in the electoral arena. We look forward to hearing more from her as the campaign unfolds and in the future. We hope that all the candidates will continue to develop their positions and to recognize that America’s militaristic foreign policy has been a disaster.
—Cole Harrison is the executive director of Mass. Peace Action.