Robert F. Kennedy Jr. entered the presidential race last month, and while most regard him as a long shot, polls show he’s already backed by 21 percent of Democrat voters. That’s a seven-percent gain in just four weeks.
It’s a bit of déjà vu for Baby Boomers.
The last time there was a Robert Kennedy in the presidential race was in 1968. Sen. Kennedy of New York officially entered the Democratic primaries after President Lyndon Johnson decided not to run in March of that year. By then, Americans were becoming disillusioned with the Vietnam War and civil unrest, and Johnson was perceived as being the wrong man for the job.
I was 14 at the time. Like many young people, I was enchanted with Sen. Kennedy, who offered hope for the nation’s ills. Kennedy was a charismatic knight in shining armor compared to Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon or George Wallace.
Kennedy and daughter Kathleen appeared on the cover of Teen Magazine that spring. He was wearing a cool turtleneck. Thoroughly modern.
Though my family were avid followers of politics, they were never Kennedy supporters. In spite of that, I found “Bobby’s” anti-war position both brave and admirable.
In the wee hours of June 5, I watched live coverage of the California primary—the last big ticket to the Democratic nomination. My mother and I stayed up for RFK to give his speech, then turned off the TV and went to bed.
That next morning, my mother would wake me with the awful news: Sen. Kennedy had been shot at the hotel in Los Angeles where we’d seen him on TV just hours earlier.
I remember calling my best friend, talking about how unbelievable it was that another public figure had been felled by an assassin. Only two months before, Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot in Memphis. Less than five years earlier, President John Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.
I remember how eerily quiet it was that sunny June day. Like us, the neighbors were inside too, watching the same TV coverage we were. The following day, June 6, Sen. Robert Kennedy died from his wounds. At his bedside were family members including his 14-year-old son, Robert Jr.
We couldn’t imagine that 55 years later, that young man would be running for President, opposing yet another costly war, promising to heal a divided country.
An environmental lawyer, author and vaccine safety activist, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is known for his criticism of the COVID vaccine and associated lockdowns. His unconventional views have created a firestorm of criticism.
Some consider him a kook. Others insist that he should be cancelled for spreading disinformation. ABC News, for example, has refused to broadcast his comments about vaccines. His own sister Kathleen, who appeared on the cover of Teen back in ’68, penned a Politico article with other relatives condemning RFK Jr. for challenging public health officials on the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations.
It should come as no surprise that Kennedy’s platform includes a plank about free speech. He has discussed the First Amendment among other issues on talk shows including Megyn Kelly and Tucker Carlson. Despite criticism from the Left, Kennedy says he’ll take his message anywhere people are willing to listen, including conservative news outlets.
He maintains that his father and his uncle, the President, were strongly opposed to censorship. There’s no sunlight between his views and those of his father or his uncle, he says. Likewise, Kennedy says, both were suspicious of the use of fear as a governing tool.
He refers to the COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates that threatened loss of a job or being kicked out of school or being thrown off public transportation for anyone who refused to comply.
Until not too long ago, people could agree to disagree without being disagreeable. The public was less thin-skinned, less prone to turn a disagreement into a cause for public shaming, doxing or boycotts.
If we can’t even talk to one another civilly, how can we ever expect to heal this country, Kennedy asks.
It’s a fair question.
As for the Gallup numbers, I see that President Biden’s approval rating was 36 percent last week. Remarkably, that was the same rating Lyndon Johnson had in March 1968 when he decided the White House was unwinnable.
---Tammy Wilson lives near Newton. Contact her at [email protected]