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RFK Jr vs the Democratic elites

The more the Democrats try to censor him, the more voters want to hear from him.

Sean Collins
US correspondent

Topics Politics USA

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He still bears the name of the US Democratic Party’s most famous and revered family. But that hasn’t stopped the Democratic elites and liberal media from relentlessly attacking Robert F Kennedy Jr.

Since RFK Jr – son of Robert F Kennedy and nephew of President John F Kennedy – announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in April, he has principally been attacked for his anti-vaccine views, including his belief in the long-discredited idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism.

As a result, Kennedy has been called a conspiracy theorist, a spreader of disinformation and a kook. The New York Times says he is ‘shaking Americans’ faith in science’. A Democratic representative and adviser to Joe Biden’s re-election campaign has called Kennedy’s views ‘dangerous’. The condemnation has been relentless.

Last month, a vaccine expert, Dr Peter Hotez, declined an invitation to debate Kennedy on Joe Rogan’s podcast. He said that it would be fruitless to debate a committed anti-vaxxer like RFK Jr. The liberal media have generally sided with Hotez. As one pundit put it, ‘vaccine science isn’t up for debate’.

Some outlets have gone as far as censoring Kennedy’s views. In a recent interview, ABC News cut out his comments about the Covid vaccines. Last month, YouTube removed his interview with Jordan Peterson, citing its ‘vaccine misinformation policy’.

But despite the efforts of the Democratic elites and their media allies to marginalise and even silence Kennedy, he is still getting a lot of attention. It’s clear that a portion of Americans – including Republicans and independents – are RFK-curious. This has allowed him to gain a foothold in the race to become the Democratic presidential nominee, and made it even more difficult for the Democratic elites to dismiss him. On average, polls now put his support for the nomination at 14 per cent. That’s still a long way behind Biden’s 64 per cent, but it’s far higher than expected.

RFK Jr calls himself a ‘Kennedy Democrat’. He says ‘we need to bring this party back’ to the values of his father, his uncle, Franklin D Roosevelt and Martin Luther King. Such calls touch a nerve among Democrats, who are uneasy about the party’s move away from its traditional values. Indeed, many of Kennedy’s stances will chime with old-school Democrats. On his campaign website, he pledges to ‘roll back the secrecy’ and ‘end the foreign wars’. And, in a blast against identity politics, he promises to seek ‘reconciliation across races, parties and divisions’.

In a particularly striking blast from the Democratic past, RFK Jr has also declared that ‘civil liberties, especially freedom of speech, are a high priority’ for him. That Democrats and media outlets are now censoring him only serves to prove his point.

Kennedy wasn’t always persona non grata. The media may currently be dismissing RFK Jr as a cranky outsider, but hitherto he had been treated as a serious Democratic player. John Kerry, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton all courted and then welcomed his support for their presidential campaigns. And after Obama’s election in 2008, he was considered a front-runner to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. Rolling Stone even named him one of its ‘100 Agents of Change’ in 2009.

RFK Jr’s environmentalism once placed him firmly within the Democratic mainstream. In 2013, he teamed up with Governor Andrew Cuomo to institute a ban on fracking in New York State. And today, he is allied with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others in supporting the Green New Deal.

Even Kennedy’s questionable views on vaccines were once welcomed in Democratic circles. In the late 1990s, when he was campaigning against MMR vaccines, many of his Democratic peers supported him. Indeed, before Covid, the anti-vaccine movement in the US was more associated with the left than the right.

The attempts to sideline RFK Jr are now backfiring. So widespread is the distrust of the media and political establishment that the more it attempts to silence him, the more people think he must have something to say. As has often been said about Donald Trump, Kennedy has all of the right enemies.

The Democrats and their media allies can roll out as many fact-checks against Kennedy as they want, but their words lack credibility. They can say ‘trust the science’, but that doesn’t work when so many feel that ‘the science’ has frequently been distorted for partisan ends, as it often was during the Covid shutdowns.

Instead of trying to deplatform or marginalise RFK Jr, his opponents would be better off debating him. That’s important from a free-speech perspective. But it’s also important for anyone who wants to restore public trust in vaccines, which has taken a beating in recent years.

I won’t hold my breath. Senior Democrats clearly want a smooth coronation for Biden’s second term, and RFK Jr is an unwelcome spoiler. They want to write him off as the black sheep of the family. But their heavy-handed, censorious approach is not working.

All it is doing is exposing the Democratic elites’ fear of even the slightest bit of opposition, and their lack of confidence in their own ideas.

Sean Collins is a writer based in New York. Visit his blog, The American Situation.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics USA

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