Commentary: If there is a Kennedy in your past, you might weigh a Kennedy for president in your future

LAURA WASHINGTON

Chicago Tribune

Published: 07-10-2023 11:00 AM

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is running for the 2024 Democratic presidential nominee. Anxious Democrats are taking note.

The longtime environmental lawyer is the son and namesake of Robert F. Kennedy Sr., a former U.S. attorney general who was assassinated during his 1968 presidential run. John F. Kennedy, the slain 35th president, was his uncle.

RFK Jr. is political royalty. He is getting attention in Democratic circles, especially from older voters who remember the ultimate iconic family of American politics.

Voters don’t know who he really is. That may change.

Between June 19 and June 29, The New York Times published several news stories and opinion pieces about Kennedy and his presidential plans. Last week, Kennedy starred in a 90-minute televised town hall hosted by NewsNation.

The attention may be boosting this longest of long shots.

According to a CNN poll taken in May, a month after Kennedy announced, 20% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters said they favor his presidential bid. Nearly half of respondents to a June poll viewed Kennedy positively, according to the survey released by The Economist and YouGov. Kennedy’s favorability rating was higher than other 2024 presidential candidates, including President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

So, who is this guy?

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In the anti-vaxxer arena, RFK Jr. makes former Illinois state Sen. Darren Bailey, last year’s GOP gubernatorial nominee, look like a mild-mannered do-gooder.

“Mr. Kennedy, 69, is a longtime amplifier and propagator of baseless theories, beginning nearly two decades ago with his skepticism about the result of the 2004 presidential election as well as common childhood vaccines,” the Times reported last month. “His audience for such misinformation ballooned during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Kennedy once compared the tragic, short life of Anne Frank to the American predicament during the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming she had fared better.

“Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did,” Kennedy declared at a January 2022 rally in Washington. “I visited in 1962 East Germany with my father and met people who climbed the wall and escaped, so it was possible. Many died doing it, but it was possible.”

Frank, the Jewish teenager who went into hiding during the Nazi reign, was eventually discovered and perished in a concentration camp. After considerable blowback, Kennedy apologized for the remarks.

During the pandemic, Kennedy was banished from Instagram for spreading false claims. He was recently featured on the Twitter Spaces platform in a friendly conversation with the controversial Elon Musk.

“Kennedy spent portions of the discussion overtly praising him, including saying, ‘thank you for your service’ of buying” Twitter, The Hill reported.

“He even suggested that he would take a stricter approach to immigration that puts him closer to former President Trump, saying he is planning on looking into ways that ‘will seal the border permanently,’” according to The Hill.

Kennedy is a staunch advocate of the Second Amendment. “My position on the gun control is I’m not going to take away anybody’s guns,” he said during the Twitter event. He blames America’s epidemic of mass shootings on the proliferation of pharmaceutical drugs.

All this has triggered alarm among some longtime Democrats, including members of the famous Kennedy clan.

Chris Kennedy, a Chicago businessman and former Illinois Democratic gubernatorial candidate, told Politico’s Illinois Playbook that he did not attend his brother’s campaign launch in April. “I tried to persuade my brother not to run. But now that he is, my best hope is that he makes the Biden campaign stronger during the primaries so the president is in the best shape to win the general election.”

While Kennedy’s ideas are scary, other Democrats are even more fearful that Biden is not in good shape. They are terrified that he cannot hold up to the rigors of campaigning and, if he were to be reelected, worry he cannot govern the U.S. into his 80s.

So, they are grasping at straws, and currently, their most popular straw man is RFK.

Much of the Democratic left is holding its progressive nose at another Biden term. But the progressives are not in sync with the RFKs — at least, not this one. Kennedy’s views are more Trumpian than Bidenesque.

I agree with Mike Murphy, a longtime political consultant and contributor to NBC News, who is not impressed with the attention Kennedy is getting.

“It’s based on name ID and whatever was loudest on cable TV a week ago,” Murphy told the Los Angeles Times last week. “He’s got a famous name, but I think half, at least, of his supporters have no idea what he’s for. There is some angst and dissatisfaction in the Democratic Party about Joe Biden so when they hear ‘Kennedy,’ he gets artificially high poll numbers.”

Democrats, calm down. It just summer, the political silly season.

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