Robert Francis Kennedy Jr. is the rare Kennedy who hasn’t yet joined the family business. But at age 69—after a long career as an environmental lawyer and activist, and many years advocating against lifesaving public health programs like childhood vaccinations on the unproven claim that they cause autism—he has decided to run for President of the United States.
Many voices in the mainstream have dismissed RFK Jr. as a distraction. The New York Times called him a “crank” and a “high-profile circus act.” But the polls don’t seem to agree. RFK Jr. is polling as high as 20 percent among Democratic-leaning voters. And according to one recent poll from The Economist and YouGov, RFK Jr. has the highest favorability rating among all major candidates, including Trump and Biden.
A challenger to the incumbent has never won the primaries in modern political history, and RFK Jr. doesn’t seem poised to break that historical precedent. But that he’s doing this well so early tells us a lot about the current state of American politics. Namely, people are dissatisfied with the options on the table—especially Democrats, who are desperate for a Biden alternative.
It also tells us something deeper about American culture right now, and what fits into the realm of acceptable conversation. RFK Jr. says things—whether about vaccines causing autism, SSRIs leading to school shootings, or the CIA killing his dad and uncle—that are described by mainstream media as disinformation and ideas that are simply beyond the pale. But his high polling suggests that many Americans are tuning in to what he has to say. And perhaps they think that we have drawn the lines of debate too narrowly.
Last week, I went to Mr. Kennedy’s house to ask him why he thinks he has hit a nerve among American voters, and how he thinks he can win the nomination, and ultimately, the presidency—all without any political experience and while hanging on to the kooky opinions.
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