Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign began as a joke in bad taste. His positions on vaccines (anti) should have disqualified him from cocktail parties and polite society long before he decided to seek the highest office in the strongest country in the world.
Kennedy is in possession of a noble name from a long-gone Camelot. RFK Jr.’s father was powerful attorney general of the United States under his now-idolized and idealized brother, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. RFK Senior was also a senator who seemed to be closing in on the 1968 Democratic nomination for president when he was assassinated, as John had been five years earlier. But Junior has fallen short.
His single redeeming Democratic credential would be his environmentalism, which is long-standing and in keeping with the party of today. Yet that hardly makes up for his deficiencies.
When Kennedy entered the Democratic primary earlier this year, it generated some noise. With his name and his near-familiar looks, it was inevitable that the media would swoon. They did, and in so doing, they helped him to the place where he now stands: a threat to the very democracy his family traditionally served so well.
When RFK Jr. was running as a Democrat, President Joe Biden could afford to laugh at the campaign and ignore calls for a debate. A 50-percent lead in the polls will give you a certain confidence in yourself and contempt for your opponent. It was a challenge Biden could practically welcome.
But now RFK Jr. is reportedly switching from the traditional political home of the Kennedys to run for president as an Independent. His chances of becoming president are still laughable, but Biden can’t afford to simply take the joke.
It shouldn’t be so, but the race between former President Donald Trump and Biden is a squeezingly close head-to-head when it’s just the two of them. There are enough Americans who are dying to vote for Trump, a fascist dictator-in-waiting with thoughts of revenge against the Republic on his mind, to at least keep it close.
But when you introduce a joker into the deck, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found Kennedy takes 14 percent of the national tally, leaving Biden a point or so behind Trump.
We should all be scared stiff of such an outcome—or at least, those of us who value democracy.
It’s not that the current Kennedy on offer can possibly win. It’s the fact that he could play the spoiler against a weak incumbent that is terrifying.
People for whatever their reasons don’t like President Biden all that much, to say the least. One often hears his age brought up as the explanation, yet he’s been more effective in terms of passing legislation at age 80 than his former boss, President Barack Obama, was while in his 40s. It’s a minor miracle. Yet it brings Biden little love.
And with his amazing name recognition and alleged Democratic credentials, it’s possible that just enough people will be fooled and peeled away from Biden by Kennedy’s bid.
Kennedy appears to have been a man of integrity who has lost his way. Now what’s left is a man of privilege, name recognition, and lost potential who stands to turn his ancestors over in their graves—not through his success,but through his ability to cause the failure of someone who deserves a second bite at the apple of the presidency.
If there’s anything left of the Kennedy in RFK Jr., it’s time to get serious, sit down, and shut up—for the sake of us all. Our democracy—our country—depends upon it.
Jason Fields is a deputy opinion editor at Newsweek and the author of the acclaimed Holocaust novel Death in Twilight.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.