My Thoughts About RFK Jr. (From David Talbot, former editor of Salon and author)
(Now Facebook is letting me post this, so here it is...)
I’ve known Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for two decades. Back when I was running Salon, I interviewed him over Chinese takeout lunch at New York’s Pace University, where he was teaching environmental law. After the interview, I dropped journalistic protocol and I urged him to run for public office. Bobby had built a solid reputation as an environmental lawyer and activist, helping fishermen and communities clean up the Hudson River, which had been poisoned by General Electric, utilities and other corporate polluters. I immediately liked Bobby – he was smart, passionate, and charismatic, like his uncle and father. But he declined to run for office then, saying his children were still growing up and needed their father. (His own father was assassinated when he was 14.)
Not long after, during the 2004 Democratic Convention, over breakfast at the Parker House -- the old Boston hotel that has played a historic role in the lives of his family -- I told Bobby that I was leaving Salon to write a book called Brothers, about his father’s hidden search for the truth about the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. I remember that Bobby stared down at his breakfast plate while I told him of my book’s subject. He did not endorse my work that morning. “My family always taught us to look forward, not back,” he told me. When I informed him that I’d interviewed the widow of Walter Sheridan, his father’s top investigator, and she confirmed the two men were secretly looking into the JFK assassination, that got Bobby’s attention. But, like his family, he remained quiet about the JFK and RFK assassinations while I did my research, first on Brothers and then on The Devil’s Chessboard. His worst fear, Bobby told me that morning in Boston, was to be politically “marginalized.”
Much has happened since then – Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is no longer silent about controversial subjects.
Bobby began by learning more about the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers – two national traumas that profoundly changed the course of world events. He read Brothers, which was published in 2007. He read James Douglass’s important JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, which was released the following year. Over an al fresco dinner one summer at a friend’s suburban New York home, Bobby told me that I was “on the right track” when I began researching CIA spymaster Allen Dulles and the Cold War national security establishment as the source of President Kennedy’s violent overthrow for my book The Devil’s Chessboard.
Bobby seemed distracted and worried that evening. His estranged wife would kill herself not long afterward, one more Kennedy tragedy.
But he kept going on his often-lonely search for the truth – about the growing depredations of the corporate state, about the killings of his uncle and father, and the “stripmining” of American democracy. It seemed he was the only Kennedy who was brave enough to want to know the truth.
Bobby kept searching – and he began speaking out. I put him in touch with other credible Kennedy assassination researchers, like Lisa Pease, author A Lie Too Big to Fail, about the political murder of his father, and James DiEugenio, who recently coproduced the Oliver Stone documentary, JFK Revisited. Bobby visited Sirhan Sirhan in prison, telling him he knew that he did not fire the shot that killed his father – as Los Angles coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who performed the RFK autopsy, and various eyewitnesses also insisted. When a California parole board considered Sirhan’s release in 2021, Bobby wrote a persuasive opinion article in the San Francisco Chronicle arguing for his freedom. (Governor Gavin Newsom later rejected the parole board’s decision to free Sirhan, to his great shame.)
Meanwhile, Bobby continued to battle with the corporate giants that pollute the environment and sicken our bodies. In 2018, he was part of a legal team that won a whopping $290 million from Monsanto, proving that Roundup, its weed-killer, was a dangerous carcinogen that lethally sickened a groundsman who had long used the product.
The chemical industry hates Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (The industry didn’t like President Kennedy either, who invited environmentalist Rachel Carson, author of The Silent Spring, to the White House.) Big Pharma also regards RFK Jr. as an enemy, because he’s accused the drug industry of controlling the FDA and CDC and profiteering from our nation’s public health decline and our chronic diseases.
Has Bobby said some things he needed to walk back? Is he sometimes misinformed? Yes and yes. What public figure constantly in the media spotlight has NOT said things he or she later regretted or had to retract? But RFK Jr. is especially targeted because he’s a Kennedy and he’s courageous.
No, he’s not anti-vax. He wants to make vaccines safer. He’s not a “nutcase,” as many liberals have been led to believe. He wants to protect Americans from corporate ruthlessness. No, he’s not a Trumpie. He says Trump allowed himself to be “rolled” by government bureaucrats and other industry hacks. While Trump crowed about the draining the swamp, Bobby says, he actually made it much worse.
And now, in fact, he’s running against Donald Trump – and yes, Joe Biden, a man he personally knows and likes – for president. Bobby is running because this country is a polarized mess. And the last political leader who could pull together America was his father, Robert Kennedy.
Those who were alive then will always remember the vast swath of Americans who lined the train tracks as RFK’s coffin was carried from New York City to his final resting place, a humble grave near that of his brother in Arlington Cemetery. (I encourage younger people to search out the photos that were taken that day, many of which were collected for the 2018 exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.)
The photos show that a stunning diversity of Americans were pulled together by Senator Kennedy in 1968: working-class whites and blacks, Little League kids, nuns in habits, farmers in overalls, rabbis, middle-class housewives, men in suits. They all bore silent witness to the fallen Kennedy. And young RFK Jr. was on board that train, watching the somber American pageant. Many of those working-class whites would later vote for Alabama Governor George Wallace, a man’s whose stridently racist views were strongly abhorred by RFK. And many of their forgotten heirs flocked to Trump.
Last week, in Boston, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced his campaign for president in 2024. I found his long speech powerful and inspirational. It’s the kind of truth-telling that the country desperately needs. I know RFK Jr. is being denounced as a spoiler and worse. I’ll lose friends for even posting something positive about his speech. But I urge you to take the time to listen to him, not just the media spin about him. Yes, the speech is nearly two hours long – as he cracked, after being silenced for so long, he has a LOT to finally say -- but you can listen to it in chunks, at different times.
As Bobby points out, when his father announced his presidential candidacy in March 1968, he was also denounced and politically isolated. The Democratic Party establishment under President Lyndon Johnson and Vice President Hubert Humphrey were adamantly opposed to him. Nearly all the unions and media outlets attacked him for opposing the Vietnam War. Young college rebels had already flocked to the campaign of Senator Gene McCarthy, who regarded RFK contemptuously as a wealthy usurper. That lack of political hope led his father to tell the American people the truth, Bobby said. By the time he was assassinated, Senator Kennedy had won the California primary and was on his way to winning the Democratic nomination.
After you watch the RFK Jr. video, let’s talk. Let me know what you agree with, or dispute. For instance, do you agree with Bobby’s major theme that American democracy has been degraded by the merger of corporate and government power? If you agree with all or most of the following, you might be a Kennedy Democrat …
— The U.S. has been locked into permanent war for decades – wars that mainly profit the military-industrial sector and neocon government bureaucrats and propagandists, who’ve flocked to the Democratic Party.
— Democracy and imperialism are fundamentally contradictory.
— We need to have an intelligent national discussion about Putin’s aggression in Ukraine – is our huge funding of the war escalating the bloodshed or furthering our stated humanitarian goals?
— Pollution is corporate theft – when a corporation despoils nature, it’s an injury to all of us.
— The Covid lockdown that President Trump authorized resulted in a historic shift of wealth to the super rich, like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (who also owns the Washington Post).
— The pandemic also aggravated the assault on democracy, stripping away our civil rights, like the right of free speech. “The Constitution was built for hard times.” The Founders knew all about pandemics, after surviving several such outbreaks – but the Constitution made no reference to suspending our liberties because of disease.
— As the wealth gap grows, the American middle class – on which democracy is based – is increasingly hollowed out.
— While the U.S. bombs hospitals, factories, ports and highways, China has been building them. More nations are shifting their economic and political allegiance away from the U.S., which remains locked into increasingly outmoded imperialistic and militaristic modes of thinking.
— The U.S. is the sickest nation in the world, because we spend more money on healthcare than any other nation but have some of the worst health outcomes.
— There are links between the increase of chronic diseases and environmental pollution.
— We have enough money for wars and bailing out banks, but not for food stamps and Medicare. Shouldn’t we be showing the same compassion to the American people?
— RFK Jr. is not the ideal president for normal times – by his own admission, he led a rambunctious youth that lasted into his early 60s. As he remarked, he has so many skeletons in his closet, that if they could all vote, he’d win in a landslide. But these are not normal times. We desperately need a leader who will tell us the truth.
“I’m not safe. Not to the vested interests. But it’s my job to keep you safe.”