By Robert Reich
Were it not for his illustrious name, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. would be just another crackpot in the growing number of bottom-feeding right-wing fringe politicians seeking high office.
But the Robert F. Kennedy brand is political gold.
He just won a surprise endorsement from Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey. On Monday he spent two hours on Twitter Spaces with Elon Musk (along with fellow crackpots former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and vaccine skeptic Kelly Slater), where he pushed baseless claims such as the coronavirus being a bioweapon.
Instagram announced Sunday it had lifted its ban on him, two years after it shut down Kennedy’s account for breaking its rules related to COVID-19, because “he is now an active candidate for president of the United States.”
RFK Jr.’s rise poses no direct threat to Biden’s nomination, although it may be an indication of Biden’s vulnerabilities among Democrats who continue to worry about his age.
My bigger worry is that all the attention coming his way may convince RFK Jr. to launch a third-party candidacy that could hurt Biden in the general election. Never underestimate the distorted reality of an engorged political ego.
It’s necessary to expose RFK Jr. for who and what he is.
Make no mistake. Junior has nothing whatever to do with his father – who stood up for economic and social justice (and for whom I worked in the late 1960s).
The younger RFK is a right-wing nut case.
He plans to travel to the Mexican border this week to “try to formulate policies that will seal the border permanently.”
He wants the federal government to consider the war in Ukraine from the perspective of Russians.
He doesn’t support a ban on assault weapons and blames the rise of mass shootings in America on pharmaceutical drugs.
He attacks Biden as a warmonger. He charged on Musk’s broadcast earlier this week that Biden “has always been in favor of very bellicose, pugnacious and aggressive foreign policy, and he believes that violence is a legitimate political tool for achieving America’s objectives abroad.”
He claims that a 2019 tabletop exercise about a mock pandemic, archived on YouTube, revealed a secret plan involving U.S. spymasters to enrich drug companies and suppress free speech.
For years, he’s promoted the baseless claim linking vaccines to autism. He’s been a leading proponent of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, suggesting the vaccine has killed more people than it has saved.
In his 2021 book The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health, he alleged, without plausible evidence, that Fauci sabotaged treatments for AIDS, violated federal laws, and conspired with Bill Gates and social media companies to suppress information about COVID-19 cures in order to leave vaccines as the only options to fight the pandemic.
RFK Jr.’s misinformation about vaccines continues to endanger public health. The United States is now in the midst of the largest measles outbreak in 25 years, but not nearly enough young people have been vaccinated against the disease.
(Ironically, in 1962, RFK Jr.’s uncle, President John F. Kennedy, signed the Vaccination Assistance Act to, in the words of a CDC report, achieve as quickly as possible the protection of the population, especially of all preschool children … through intensive immunization activity.”)
RFK Jr.’s candidacy also saddens me. He could have done something meaningful with his life and his name. Earlier on, he showed promise as a staunch environmentalist before veering into gonzo conspiracy theories. He has correctly identified widening inequality and corporate power as threats to American democracy.
I remember him at the age of 13, running around the pool at RFK’s family compound at Hickory Hill amid whooping and hollering of the vast Kennedy clan, full of energy and laughter.
Mostly, though, I remember his dad, and all the promise RFK represented for America. And, of course, the heartbreaking assassination on June 6, 1968, the evening RFK won the California primary.
That Robert F. Kennedy’s namesake would attract 20 percent of Democratic voters 55 years later is testament to the continuing power of that memory.
It’s also a tragic reminder of how far America has veered from it.