Discover more from OLD GOATS with Jonathan Alter
RFK Jr.: Pedigreed Menace
Who Will Figure Out How to Drive Him From the Race?
The blood on Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s hands wasn’t yet dry when he got it into his fevered mind that he should be President of the United States. Normally, I wouldn’t care about an entitled fringe candidate whose lies about Covid vaccinations helped cost hundreds of thousands of credulous people their lives. But it’s clear on Fox and Twitter that MAGA world will use this pedigreed menace to wound Joe Biden now that the president is officially in the race.
Kennedy has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination and he isn’t likely to fulfill Roger Stone’s hope that he becomes Donald Trump’s running mate (Tim Scott and Kari Lake are better bets). But I worry that despite all of the skeletons that will tumble out of his closet, he’ll do better than anyone expects and press a nasty attack on Biden for months. In the meantime, his unhinged book about Covid goes largely unchallenged.
I first met Bobby in the mid-1970s at Harvard, where his name and super-cool affect made him attractive to people like me who should have known better. One year, we were in an American history class together and he rarely showed up or read any of the assignments. On the night before the final, I agreed to brief him on the course material instead of studying myself. I did fine but felt like a fool for succumbing to his toxic allure.
All of the older male children of Robert and Ethel Kennedy were troubled. In 1983, Bobby, an assistant DA in New York, was busted for heroin possession on an airplane. David died of a drug overdose in 1984 and Michael was killed in 1997 when he crashed into a tree while recklessly playing touch football on an Aspen ski slope.
I saw Bobby occasionally in the years that followed but mostly steered clear of him, thanks in part to my wife, who distrusted him even when he seemed to be an effective environmentalist. In 2014, I ran into Kennedy and one of his sons on the slopes at Deer Valley. He was friendly and charming (a side of him that voters will respond to) and we skied a few runs together without incident. Suddenly, he veered recklessly into the woods and the rest of our party of five meekly followed, barely dodging trees like the ones that had killed his brother. When we emerged onto the open slope, I was upset with myself. I said goodbye and vowed never to talk to him again.
Now, with no qualifications, Bobby wants to be the leader of the free world. And a new poll shows 14 percent of surveyed voters who backed President Biden in 2020 said they would support Kennedy in 2024 — a surprisingly high number, even accounting for name recognition. His support comes from conservatives and younger voters who dislike Biden and think the Covid shutdowns went too far.
Is 14 percent his high water mark? I’ve heard from good sources that he may get #MeToo’d. For many years, Kennedy was a notoriously manipulative sex addict and chronic adulterer. He rated his partners on a 1-10 scale in his journal, which fell into the hands of his mentally-ill second wife, Mary Richardson. After he filed for divorce and Richardson committed suicide in 2012, her family sued Kennedy for moving her remains to a Kennedy plot, then moving them again. To describe the feelings of the Richardson family toward Kennedy as angry would be a gross understatement.
In recent years, Kennedy has become a full-blown conspiracy theorist — Sirhan Sirhan didn’t really kill his father; 5G is “harvesting human data”— and even before Covid, Kennedy’s own family denounced his views on vaccination. In 2019, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Townsend’s daughter, Maeve Kennedy McKean (who later died in a boating accident), were concerned that Bobby’s opposition to measles vaccination was costing lives. “He has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines,” they wrote in a Politico op-ed. My heart goes out to his siblings and cousins, several of whom I know and admire. He has dealt the reputation of their generation of Kennedys another blow.
Bobby claims that he’s not against vaccinations, only the way they’ve been tested and marketed. Expect to hear him say this repeatedly on the campaign trail in order to win the support of millions of vaccination-hesitant voters and others still upset about school closures, mask mandates and other restrictions.
It’s bull. This is a man who released a video depicting Anthony Fauci in a Hitler mustache. He got in trouble last year comparing Covid restrictions to Nazi propaganda. “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did,” he said. Cheryl Hines, the former Curb Your Enthusiasm star and Kennedy’s third wife, called the reference to Anne Frank “reprehensible and insensitive.” Kennedy apologized, but now that he’s running for president (with Hines’ enthusiastic support), he’s trying to weasel out of his apology, saying he was misinterpreted.
Kennedy declared his candidacy last week in Boston despite having no connection to the place. He was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area and has long lived in Westchester County, New York. Of course people associate the Kennedys with Boston because of JFK (even though RFK represented New York in the Senate) and, more important, the Boston media market beams into New Hampshire. Kennedy will spend months charming Granite State voters, many of whom famously insist on personally meeting candidates before voting for them.
In his hoarse announcement speech (he suffers from a disorder called spasmodic dysphonia), Bobby said he aims “to end the corrupt merger of state and corporate power that is threatening now to impose a new kind of corporate feudalism on our country.” This suggests his anti-“Deep State,” anti-corporate agenda could make him a potentially appealing populist to voters who don’t pay close attention — a peculiar cross between a younger Bernie Sanders and a cooler Ron DeSantis, with some Kennedy pixie dust spread on top. New Hampshire is a famously independent and ornery state with an open primary that allows suspicious anti-establishment voters from both parties to cast a protest vote.
And Biden isn’t popular in New Hampshire, where I covered some of his desultory events in 2020. He finished fifth in the 2020 primary with 8.4 percent of the vote and managed to narrowly carry the state in November only because it’s trending Democratic. When the Biden-controlled DNC upended more than 100 years of tradition and made South Carolina the first Democratic primary, it was a blow to New Hampshire’s tourism industry — and its pride. The state stuck with its first-in-the-nation February 13, 2024 primary date even though no convention delegates will be selected on the Democratic side.
On top of all that, New Hampshire is famous for bloodying the noses of frontrunners. In 1968, Eugene McCarthy nearly upset President Johnson by winning 42 percent of the vote, which led a humiliated LBJ to leave the race. In 1972, George McGovern upset frontrunner Edmund Muskie. In 1976, Jimmy Carter upset frontrunner Birch Bayh. In 1984, Gary Hart upset frontrunner Walter Mondale. In 1992, on the Republican side, Pat Buchanan, a newspaper columnist and TV pundit, won 38 percent of the vote against incumbent President George H.W. Bush. In 2000, John McCain upset frontrunner George W. Bush. In 2016, Bernie Sanders won 60 percent of the vote against Hillary Clinton.
Kennedy almost certainly won’t pull an upset, in part because word that he’s being pumped up by Trump, Tucker Carlson, and Steve Bannon will hurt him badly among Democrats, even if he finally comes around to criticizing the Orange Monster.
But with the help of funding from right-wingers, my bet is that Kennedy will stay in the race for months as a spoiler. Even when money is short, he’ll run on fumes and continued coverage from a press corps with a strong personal (and commercial) bias for a conflict-filled primary season in both parties. Kennedy won’t endorse Biden and may even end up as a third party candidate with the potential to tilt the election to Trump or another Republican.
Will his lies be exposed? I’m not so sure. In 2021, he wrote a book entitled The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health that decried “2020’s historic coup d’etat against Western democracy.” It debuted at #2 on the Amazon bestseller list and has garnered an astonishing 23,000 mostly positive comments on that site. NewsGuard exposed many of the book’s ludicrous claims but few critics have bothered to take Kennedy on directly; instead he is simply dismissed as a conspiracy-monger.
It’s worse than that. Kennedy slimes Anthony Fauci (“the most despotic doctor in human history”) and Bill Gates for personally profiting from Covid (a total lie) and for suppressing ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine and other early treatments that were discredited well before he published his book. To give you some sense of how nutty this book is, Kennedy admiringly quotes a woman named Celia Farber — a conspiracy theorist (and daughter of rightwing radio host Barry Farber) best known for denying that HIV causes AIDS. Farber claims to have found a mass grave in Hawthorne, New York containing the bodies of children who died after being experimented on. Kennedy mentions only that Farber is a “journalist” and quotes her as saying:
“Around the pit was a semi-circle of several large tombstones on which upward of one thousand children’s names had been engraved. I wrote down every name. I’m still wondering who the rest of those kids were. As far as I know, nobody has ever asked Dr. Fauci that haunting question.”
That’s Kennedy’s MO. Like Tucker Carlson, who can be expected to pump Kennedy from whatever platform he uses post-Fox, he’s just “raising questions.” He accuses society of “scapegoating” anti-vaxxers in a book explicitly devoted to scapegoating Fauci, Gates, the FDA and a pharmaceutical industry that — for all of its faults — produced vaccines in record time that saved an estimated four million lives in the United States and tens of millions more worldwide.
Kennedy attacks Bill Gates for allowing his foundation to sponsor clinical trials in Africa, as if doing so was conclusive proof of his racism. Of course he doesn’t mention that Gates has spent $14 billion helping Africa and last year pledged another $7 billion. That’s $21 billion. That’s ten times the GDP of several African nations.
The Global Fund, which is largely funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has reduced the death toll from AIDS, TB and malaria by more than 50 percent this century — a mind-blowing public health success. Gates, who could have played golf (or bought Twitter) after making his fortune, has instead helped save 50 million lives and increased life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa by 12 years. His reward is to be trashed by a twisted demagogue who thinks loading up his book with footnotes from questionable sources makes him look smart.
In recent days, some friends have asked me why I’m bothering to write about a crazy dude like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. My answer is simple: If being crazy was enough to disqualify a candidate, we wouldn’t have Trump. Investigative reporters should take the time to dig up enough information about Kennedy’s squalid past to drive him from the race.