What of another Kennedy in the White House?
When Robert F Kennedy Jr announced his plan to run for president in the Democratic party primaries a month ago, Jim Kessler, a leader of the pro-Biden think tank Third Way, called him a “gadfly and a laughingstock” while Democratic consultant Sawyer Hackett brushed him off as “a gnat”.
According to a recent CNN poll, support for the son of Robert Kennedy and nephew of the late president, assassinated in Dallas, Texas 60 years ago this coming November, is at 20% among Democrats.
One might wonder why the 69-year-old’s campaign is resonating with a decent degree of US voters?
Kennedy Jr’s campaign is rooted in something with arguably great popular appeal – in short, a true crime story. The mysteries and conspiracies that surround the assassinations of President John F Kennedy, and the presidential hopeful’s father, Robert F Kennedy, are almost full-time American preoccupations for those of my generation. And such preoccupations have been aided and abetted by that mass ‘fake news’ machine we know as QAnon. The cult, for want of a more apt word, has a longstanding obsession with the Kennedy family, one that includes the earnest belief among many that the assassinated president’s son, John F Kennedy Jr, who died in a plane crash in 1999, is actually still alive and living under an assumed identity. Last year, believers got so hung up on this idea that they gathered in Dallas, at the site of JFK’s assassination, believing his dead son was about to finally reappear and announce that he was going to be Trump’s running mate in the 2024 elections! Needless to say, he didn’t show up.
Kennedy Jr has also recently begun to openly support the claim that the CIA was behind the murder of his uncle and father, something he says he came to only “five or six years ago”.
It’s not only the combined power of a dynastic family, violent crime and conspiracy culture that Kennedy is cashing in on. He is also tapping into the American voters’ sense of “real pain and outrage”. A great number of voters are seemingly hurting and, some argue, rightfully angry about powerful corporations controlling their democracy and profiting from illness and poverty. About endless wars emptying the national coffers – funds for Medicare and social welfare are predicted to run out by 2028 – and killing and maiming their young. About stagnating wages and escalating costs. This is the world of America right now, as I saw during my three-week sojourn.
Kennedy Jr’s campaign speaks directly to this anger and growing unrest with the American political ‘system’, with its central message about “the corrupt merger between state and corporate power”. When he talks about drug companies controlling the national health agencies and “polluters controlling environmental regulators”, the former lawyer can seem quite persuasive. When he criticises the big companies who “made a killing during Covid, profiteering off the pandemic and using it to crush their rivals”, he is articulating the feelings of many everyday Americans. When he talks about the endless wars that shape US foreign policy, and suggests that the goal in Ukraine should be to end the untold carnage, he is, again, articulating what so many American are feeling right now.
And he speaks to those concerned about climate change when he says: “Environmental protection binds us to our own humanity and to all of creation. When we destroy a species, when we destroy a special place, we’re diminishing our capacity to sense the divine, understand who God is, and what our own potential is as human beings.”
Dare I suggest Kennedy is fluent in the language of heartbreak and devastation, of smoke blinding the sun across entire continents – as happened with the Canadian fires on New York City during my tenure here – and such outpourings are worthy of consideration. Few else seemingly have such rhetoric. Not Joe Biden. And certainly not Kamala Harris.
Has Robert Kennedy Jr the power to make him a formidable opponent to Joe Biden in 2024?
Finally, there is the argument that Kennedy is an extreme anti-vaxxer which sparked the comments in my opening paragraph. That said, since announcing his candidacy Kennedy has seemingly backed away from his extreme views about childhood immunisations, which has been the major preoccupation of his organisation, Children’s Health Defence, since well before Covid. Kennedy the other day told The Wall Street Journal: “I’m not leading with the issue because it’s not a primary issue of concern to most Americans.”
Another Kennedy in the White House? Watch this space…
Normal service resumes