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The POV: Robert F. Kennedy 

Updated: May 23

Not since Teddy Roosevelt, Former President of the United States (1901-1909) and cousin to a future President (FDR), has there been a more eminent independent candidate than Robert F Kennedy Jr. 

His uncle, President John F Kennedy, is one of the most cherished Presidents in US history, not only as a vehicle of change at the beginning of the chaotic 1960s, but as a leader who was gunned down and mourned by an entire nation. JFK’s shadow often covers the campaign of Robert F Kennedy, JFK’s Attorney General and RFK Jr’s father, who was shot dead just like his brother, 5 years earlier. 

Thus the Kennedy name carries huge weight, and is viewed as the family, silenced and targeted, for attempting to make great change, not only to American society, but also, as RFK Jr has argued, looking to defy and change institutions of the US Government. This includes the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which JFK saw as one arm of what Eisenhower coined as the “military industrial complex”.

The influence of RFK Jr’s name in the upcoming election cannot be overstated. The polls show him rising in favorability and setting himself up to at least snatch 20% of the vote, which political experts and analysts, such as Professor Allan J Lichtman, will list as a very serious development which could swing an election. 

Taking in all this, let’s pull back the veil of the past, and dispel the shadows of the figures he succeeds, who is RFK Jr?

Robert Francis Kennedy Jr is an environmental lawyer and a leading figure of vaccine sceptics, in April 2023 he launched a campaign to challenge President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination. However, Kennedy changed course in October 2023, choosing to run as an independent. 

Born in 1954 as the third of 11 children of RFK and Ethel Kennedy, his life was turned upside down when he was a teenager. 

Following his father’s death in 1968, he struggled with drug abuse, was arrested for being in possession of marijuana, and subsequently booted out of two boarding schools. Further into his studies, he was also arrested for heroin possession after a drug overdose in the early 1980s. At the time, he had begun his career in law as an assistant district attorney in New York, after completing a law degree at the University of Virginia. He also studied Politics and Government at Harvard and studied at LSE. It is no secret that Kennedy struggled to find his feet after losing his dad and a father figure in JFK. Further, few could imagine the pressure of carrying the Kennedy surname and being part of a family that was targeted for its politics, when Kennedy looked forward to growing up. 

It was during his probation period that RFK Jr found his feet. During this period he volunteered with the “Hudson River Fishermen’s Association”; known as “riverkeeper” - a nonprofit organisation that took legal action against Government and corporate entities that were polluting the Hudson River. This was the foundation of Kennedy’s path in environmental law, having passed his bar exam in 1985, after failing around the time of his overdose. He became Riverkeepers’ chief prosecuting attorney and a senior attorney for the Natural Resource Defence Council.

His work with riverkeepers culminated in 1997 when he played a role in the significant NYC watershed Memorandum of agreement which protected New York drinking water.

In other environmental cases, such as a protest against Puerto Rico being used by the US Navy for bombing exercises (2001), Kennedy was arrested on several occasions and was no stranger to activism and protest. For example, he was arrested in 2013 for protesting against the Keystone XL pipeline which indigenous communities in the US and Canada also opposed.

Despite this impressive work and activism, Robert F Kennedy has been branded as a controversial figure, likely centering around his views on vaccines. Now famously, Kennedy wrote an op-ed called Deadly Immunity in Rolling Stone and Salon which purported a link between autism and thimerosal (a mercury containing antiseptic) which is used in some vaccines (2005). Following new data coming to light debunking this position, Salon retracted the article in 2011, branding Kennedy’s views, which are held until today, to be dangerous and, most importantly, completely false.

Speaking of vaccines, Kennedy had his instagram account suspended for his claims in 2021. He claimed that COVID-19 vaccines cause injury and death, despite data showing fatalities so small that they were insignificant. Furthermore, Kennedy went after Anthony Fauci and the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, accusing them of trying to profit off of the pandemic, perhaps even suggesting a role in propagating it.  

This is the trail of controversy that follows RFK Jr through the Presidential campaign. This is potentially a reason for why he dropped out of the race for the democratic nomination, as it was observed that he had fallen out with mainstream democrats and was polling more favourably with Republicans.

However, a huge controversy playing in Kennedy’s favour, is that he is still being denied Secret service protection, despite the fact that Donald Trump and Nikki Haley both have details (Trump as a former President). This is only fanning the flames of conspiracies about plots against the Kennedy family orchestrated by the establishment. Recently, RFK has asked for people to sign a petition on his instagram to demand President Biden to grant Kennedy secret service protection.

His mission, as he announced at a rally, “was to spoil it for both” President Biden and likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

In my view, his family name, and the impossible decision of choosing between a President in cognitive decline and a President famed for insult, legal battles and polarisation, could see Robert F Kennedy Jr pick up serious political ground as disillusioned voters seek a third option.

So, is RFK Jr a serious contender?

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