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This isn’t Joe Kennedy’s grandfather’s Democratic Party, and he knows it

Kennedy thrilled Democrats with his State of the Union response. But what comes next?

Democrats Hold Sit In In House Chamber To Force Vote On Gun Control Legislation Pete Marovich/Getty Images

When you’re sitting in front of Rep. Joe Kennedy, it’s clear that you’re sitting in front of a Kennedy. The face, the jawline — it’s all uncannily familiar.

But Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, is rising in a changed Democratic Party. In the 1950s, the nonwhite share of the Democratic vote was about 7 percent. In 2012, it was about 44 percent — and that number is ticking upward.

Kennedy is navigating it smoothly. Tapped to give the Democratic response to the State of the Union — and you’ll want to listen to him tell the story of how that came about — he delivered a powerful performance in a speaking slot that usually buries ambitious young politicians. And he did it by reminding Democrats that their rhetoric can be bigger than their divisions, that a party built on difference can still see its way to a national identity.

In this conversation, recorded for my podcast, Kennedy and I talk about the policies that lie behind that speech. Where should Democrats go on health care, on economics, on drugs? Is the divide over identity politics and economic populism really a “false choice,” as Kennedy argues? And how do Democrats talk about unity when Trump keeps driving the national conversation into divisive issues?

You can listen to our conversation here. For more interviews like this one — including discussions with Hillary Clinton, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Paul Krugman, and Susan Hennessey — subscribe to my podcast, The Ezra Klein Show, wherever you get your pods.