RFK Jr. and the Populist Wave: There’s a Reckoning Coming

RFK Jr. and the Populist Wave: There’s a Reckoning Coming. By Peter Savodnik.

But the real reason Biden is hemorrhaging voters, Kennedy said when we met at his home in the hills on the west side of Los Angeles, isn’t the president’s age or acuity but something deeper.

“I’ve always liked Joe Biden,” Kennedy told me.

The problem, he explained, is that Biden is a function of a system that a growing majority of Americans don’t trust. “I see him doing things that I know, at his core, he cannot possibly believe in — the censorship that’s coming out of the White House, it’s so contrary to everything that he’s stood for over his life.”

He was referring to the White House and Facebook working hand in hand to root out “problematic posts,” as former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had put it. But he could have been talking about Twitter. Or Google. Or the synergy — or is it collusion? — between the most powerful technology companies and the American government.

RFK Jr. likes to talk about “Big Tech,” “Big Pharma,” “Big Media.” A decade ago, when liberals were still hostile to supposedly greedy, publicly traded companies, that kind of language would have resonated on the left. Today, with many of those same companies implementing the DEI-ESG-Covid regime championed by progressive elites, the left seems mostly at home with corporate America — and any talk of Big This or Big That sounds conspiratorial. …

YouTube recently kicked off a couple of years worth of videos of Kennedy, for covid vaccine blasphemies, now that he is running against Biden.

Among Kennedy’s more provocative assertions were the claims that, when it comes to the Covid vaccine, “the press is utterly captured,” and “all of the other institutions of government that should stand between a greedy corporation and a vulnerable child have been compromised.” There was, as with so many of Kennedy’s claims, an element of truth — legacy media has been very quick to buy whatever the Biden administration is selling — mixed with a great deal of vagueness and insinuation. …

If you’re YouTube, these are the basic rules of the road — how else is the platform supposed to prevent the spread of bad information during a pandemic? But if you’re RFK Jr., this is evidence of our broken system — and the timing is suspicious. “If you’re a media platform, you know, you should be questioning the government,” Kennedy said. What’s happening now, he added, “is kind of the opposite. Instead of speaking truth to power, they’re broadcasting propaganda to the powerless.”

The man and his dad:

And then there’s the man himself, with his sleeves rolled up, rugged, handsome, with the firm grip, the raspy voice. At 69, he looks like he has years of fight left in him.


It felt like America picking up where it had left off just past midnight on June 5, 1968, nearly 55 years ago to the day, when the candidate’s father, Robert F. Kennedy, the former attorney general, senator, and a leading contender for the Democratic White House nomination, was murdered about ten miles east of here, in the now-razed Ambassador Hotel. That night, he had scored two big primary wins, and it seemed as though there might be a chance for the party, and America, to piece itself back together, to transcend the division and crisis of Vietnam, race riots, and the counterculture. …

The time is ripe, again:

“That same thing is true in this country today,” he said. “There are people who are angry, and they deserve to be angry, and either Trump is going to sign them up, Donald Trump, for a ride into the darkness, or we can try to capture that energy and turn it into something positive for our country, something that is reflective of the highest ideals of the American experience.”

I asked what that looked like.

“It’s basically building a coalition of the left and the right — a populist coalition,” Kennedy said. There were dangers in that, he conceded. “Populism is easy to hijack. Demagogues can easily hijack it by exploiting humanity’s negative, universal impulses: greed, anger, hatred, bigotry, self-pity, xenophobia, misogyny.” That was the danger of Trump.

“But also, you know, a lot of populist movements are idealistic in their core,” he said. “My father was a populist, but he was appealing to something better, those parts of ourselves that say we have to step outside of our narrow self-interest and see ourselves as part of a community and resist this seduction of the notion that we can advance ourselves as a people by leaving our poorer brothers and sisters behind.” …

Why modern Democrats will reject RFK:

To be clear, Kennedy will probably lose big. He lacks money and voters, and it’s unclear which, if any, major Democratic constituencies or donors — unions, trial lawyers, public school teachers, George Soros, Michael Bloomberg — would back him. (“A big chunk of his base is Republican obviously,” one Bay Area supporter, a former Silicon Valley executive, texted me.)

Kennedy’s No. 1 liability is his crusade against vaccines — both the Covid vaccine and vaccines more generally. To his detractors, it’s proof that he is beyond the pale. But to his supporters, it’s an asset — it shows the candidate is willing to take on what he calls “the biosecurity state.”

Ninety percent of Democrats have been vaccinated against Covid. Kennedy insists the Covid vaccines have “overwhelming safety and efficacy problems.” …

Kennedy’s opposition to the Covid shot is an extension of his broader vaccine skepticism. He is adamant that the increase in the number of vaccinations schoolchildren were required to get, starting in the late 1980s, caused an increase in several serious disorders, including eczema and peanut allergies. When I asked him whether vaccines were to blame for the uptick in childhood autism, as he had previously contended, he replied: “Absolutely, there is a link.” …

All of this made it difficult for the Kennedy supporters I spoke to to go public with their support.

Until Covid, anti-vaxxers were a little likelier to be progressive than conservative. But now, with Covid, it’s right-wingers who are more likely to be anti-vax than left-wingers. (Such is the power of our tribalization.) Which explains why Kennedy’s supporters fear coming out of the proverbial closet and alienating their more mainstream Democratic friends and colleagues. I asked Kennedy what he thought of that, and he laughed and said: “I suppose I’m disreputable.”

And yet, these liberals and progressives wax poetic about the general election campaign he’d run — “He’d easily beat Trump,” one of them told me. “It would be so unifying,” another promised. If he could only leapfrog the primaries, they muse. Which is impossible. Because democracy.

What they are expressing is profound dissatisfaction with the state of their party, with its leadership, and with its current standard-bearer. They see a Democratic establishment that increasingly resembles the Republican establishment of 2016: sclerotic, insular, and incapable of grappling with the most pressing issues of the day, like crime, inflation, immigration, and government corruption. …

A reckoning coming:

A former Democratic congressman who did not want to be named and is supporting Kennedy said that, among seasoned Democrats, “there’s a concern” about what’s happening to the party, “but it’s almost like that which is not to be talked about. The people who are pros, they know there’s a reckoning coming.” …

“It’s become a war party,” Kennedy said of the Democrats. “It’s become the party of the neocons. It’s become the party of Wall Street and the party of censorship, which, I think, was, you know, antithetical to liberal values.” The worst part, he said, was that Democrats, who were supposed to be the aspirational party, the party of idealism and possibility, had become the party of fear. “We’re supposed to be the party that tells people that the only thing to fear is fear itself.”

The Democratic higher-ups had become untethered from reality. That was [take of the other presidential contender, Marianne Williamson]. “In 2016, two political candidates said to the American people, ‘I see your suffering, and I validate your rage’ — Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders,” she said. “Hillary had the attitude of ‘Let’s continue the success of the last eight years,’ and there were millions of Americans who said, ‘What success, lady? I’m dying here.’ ” After a moment, Williamson added: “I fear that that same delusion and denial is alive today.” …

The middle will re-emerge:

There is, on the left and right, an emerging economic-populist consensus. “There is a realignment that has occurred,” Dennis Kucinich, the former Democratic congressman and presidential candidate now managing the Kennedy campaign, told me from his home in Cleveland. “It hasn’t been identified and articulated yet, but it’s absolutely happening.”

David Kochel, a Republican media consultant who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, said, referring to Kennedy: “I have a number of folks in my DMs talking about how they agree with 90 percent of what he says.” …

An RFK Jr. supporter in Hollywood, who feared professional and social backlash if he spoke openly, messaged me: “I’ll never vote Dem again, unless it’s Bobby.” Referring to the journalist Matt Taibbi, who, like The Free Press, angered many Democrats with his reporting on the Twitter Files, he said: “These people want to arrest Taibbi”—an allusion to Rep. Stacey Plaskett’s April 13 letter to Taibbi suggesting his reporting could land him in prison. “Their science is shit, and they’re war-mongering, racially- and gender-obsessed lunatics at this point. It’s madness.”

He added: “Not voting for Trump, I just won’t vote.”