If there is one thing the extended Kennedy clan seems to agree on, it’s that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a world-class schnook.
Kennedy’s siblings, the other living children of assassinated New York senator and 1968 presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, have issued a statement condemning his bid for the presidency. Members of the clan, which includes former representative Joseph P. Kennedy II of Massachusetts, filmmaker Rory Kennedy, former Maryland politico Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and human rights activist Kerry Kennedy, say they “denounce his candidacy and believe it to be perilous for our country,” according to their joint statement.
RFK Jr. seems to be the skunk at the party. Republicans, who previously supported his long-shot bid, now worry that he’ll cut into their votes. Ditto for the Democrats, although no one really knows how wide and deep any potential Kennedy voting bloc is.
One wonders if the siblings’ objection to RFK Jr. is grounded in deeply held ideological principles or in political expediency. President Biden has been pretty good to the fam. Former US representative Joseph P. Kennedy III of Massachusetts (son of Joseph II) enjoys some nebulous appointment as special envoy to Ireland for economic affairs; Townsend has served in the Department of Labor; and Townsend’s first cousin, Caroline Kennedy, is currently the US ambassador to Australia, hardly a scene of diplomatic heavy lifting.
There is the additional possibility, voiced by Heather Schwedel in Slate, that an RFK Jr. candidacy “just isn’t good for the brand.” But how strong is the brand anyway? A cynic might write off the current crop of Kennedys as played-out coupon clippers living off a massive fortune amassed by the savvy and disreputable family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy.
How disreputable? When Winston Churchill and the king and queen of England remained in London during the World War II air raids, Kennedy, then-ambassador to London, famously sought shelter in the countryside, earning him the moniker “Jittery Joe.”
But I digress.
The Kennedys garner some attention each year when they hand out their Profiles in Courage awards, which often land in the laps of “right-thinking” (read: anti-Trump) Republicans, such as Mitt Romney, or celebrate Democratic eminentos such as Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. Maybe RFK Jr. will prove to be good for the brand. He is a politician to whom no one seems indifferent.
I took in RFK Jr.’s act at a well-attended event in North Sandwich, N.H., this summer. I even came away with a souvenir, a giveaway pen from “Fincann: The Cannabis Banking Network” which had some kind of involvement with the event. RFK Jr. is a mesmerizing speaker, mainly because he has a neurological disorder (spasmodic dysphonia), which causes his voice to be raspy — as he often explains at public appearances, “I feel sorry for you guys having to listen to me.” If you listen at all, you are forced to concentrate on his words.
What is he saying? I heard some recycled Camelot stories, which seemed to play well. As I’ve written before, RFK Jr. has been tagged for spreading conspiracy theories, but one person’s conspiracy is another’s rational explanation. When he calls the ongoing hostilities in Ukraine “a ‘proxy war’ between the United States and Russia,” I can’t think of any clearer characterization of that conflict.
Kennedy really needs to stop talking about science, where he bandies about technical-sounding jargon (“they did a cluster analysis, so they did, you know, artificial intelligence”) and almost always spouts refutable nonsense. His “contrarian” views on vaccines are idiotic and possibly dangerous.
I would call the Kennedy event a goulash of nostalgic stories, some serviceable campaign material, and some bonkers assertions. Not ideal, perhaps, but the bonkers scale is getting recalibrated as we speak. Earlier this week Donald Trump showed up at a New Hampshire high school auditorium and — not for the first time — read the lyrics to “The Snake,” an old Al Wilson tune that may or may not contain an anti-immigration message.
So cool it, Kennedy kiddos: Let Bobby run. If he takes votes from the “Snake” charmer and simultaneously forces the Democrats to sharpen their message, so much the better.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.