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Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: The Return Of The Kennedy Democrat?
Digesting Kennedy's Campaign Announcement Speech
On April 19, 2023 (Patriot’s Day1), Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., announced his candidacy, first for the Democratic Party’s nomination as their candidate for President in next year’s election, and then for the Presidency itself.
I’ve come here today to announce my candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.
Just as with Ron DeSantis’ announcement on May 24, Kennedy’s announcement presents us with sober questions—questions that the election cycle will at least attempt to answer.
What sort of President does he intend to be? What sort of problems does he see that demand resolution?
As with DeSantis’ speech, my aim here is not to “fact check” Kennedy’s speech, nor even to critique it. Rather, here I begin to tease out the factual basis for Kennedy’s positions, his view of this country’s issues, and his solutions.
Although Kennedy’s announcement was more than a month prior to DeSantis’, I am writing about his speech second simply because DeSantis had the curious fortune to have announced his candidacy at the time I decided to begin this Politics Matter section within All Facts Matter. However, neither his speech nor his candidacy is any less important. We must weigh the facts and evidences of his candidacy with the same sobriety and seriousness with which we apprehend DeSantis, or indeed any other candidate seeking the office of President.
Kennedy’s speech was, to put it mildly, a “stemwinder”—he spoke for well over an hour. The length of his address makes it difficult to fit any analysis into a single article—for brevity I am consolidating most of his rhetoric, and will be quoting far less than usual.
Robert Kennedy began his speech with a brief summary of his family history, beginning with the emigration of his forebears from Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine of 1848. This backstory frames the entire speech, as he uses it to mention anti-Irish and anti-Catholic discrimination in the United Kingdom, including mentioning that his Irish ancestors were denied the right to vote or hold public office.
Following the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church during the reign of Henry VIII, Irish Catholics were indeed subject to the oppression Kennedy describes2.
After the Reformation, Roman Catholics in Britain had been harassed by numerous restrictions. In Britain, Roman Catholics could not purchase land, hold civil or military offices or seats in Parliament, inherit property, or practice their religion freely without incurring civil penalties. A Roman Catholic in Ireland could not vote in Parliamentary elections and could be readily dispossessed of his land by his nearest Protestant relative.
Beginning in 1774, a series of emancipatory measures were passed both in Ireland (which was not formally added to the United Kingdom until the Act of Union in 1801) and in Britain, Roman Catholics were gradually granted the same civil liberties as Protestants enjoyed. These efforts culminated with the Emancipation Act of 1829, which allowed Roman Catholics to sit in Parliament and opened up most public offices to them.
What Kennedy did not mention in his speech was that anti-Irish discrimination existed in the 19th-century United States as well3. Despite the insistence of some historians, signs in store windows stating “No Irish Need Apply” were an historical reality of 19th-century America4.
After that brief exposition of his family’s history as Irish immigrants, Kennedy, through a tribute to his grandmother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, wove a brief summation of the events leading up to the American Revolution (April 19th, the date of Kennedy’s speech is the anniversary date of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolution). What is relevant to his candidacy, however, is the thematic arc he assigns to the American Revolution:
But the spear tip of that rebellion was that fury that the colonists had against the merger, that corrupt merger of state and corporate power.
Without wandering too far in to the weeds of American history, it should be noted that “mercantilism5” was and is a potent body of economic thought, providing the conceptual framework for empires to seek out colonies.
England enacted new laws during the 16th and 18th centuries, putting tariffs on imports of foreign goods and restricting shipping through English channels. As such, mercantilism became the key economic model of the time. It encouraged the colonists to purchase goods from England rather than rival nations. The colonies sent raw materials to England where they were manufactured into finished products and sold to the colonists. This allowed Britain to monopolize the slave trade, transporting slaves from English ports to America. High inflation and heavy taxation on the colonies caused a rift between the colonists and the British.
Robert Kennedy’s appraisal of the current state of the United States is that the political and economic model so described is at the heart of what is wrong with American society today, and he intends to alter that status quo.
There is not much room for me to contest this premise, as it is of a piece with many of my own articles. The things Kennedy asserts I have documented to one degree or another.
Certainly we have just in recent events considerable support for the premise that corporate and government interests are entirely too cozy with one another in the US.
We have seen government officials subvert the law for the benefit of a few corporate interests (Big Pharma).
When it comes to Robert Kennedy’s appraisal of the dangers of merging corporate and state power, the fact is that I agree with him, and the fact is that I have already written about a sizable body of fact to support that appraisal.
One of Kennedy’s primary objectives as part of his Presidential agenda is to change the status quo on government misinformation and censorship.
Certainly we need look no further than the past three years of COVID and the Pandemic Panic Narrative to see instances our government lying to us, trying to silence us, trying to intimidate us.
State medical boards have threatened to revoke doctors’ licenses for spreading COVID “misinformation.”
“Physicians who generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation are risking disciplinary action by state medical boards, including the suspension or revocation of their medical license.”
Again, here I agree with Robert Kennedy, and in my own writings have the facts to back up the charge.
The next part of Kennedy’s speech is an homage to the careers and legacies of his uncle and his father. Following the extended homily to both men, Robert Kennedy moved on to a discussion of his own career as an environmental lawyer and activist.
Much of Kennedy’s legal work has been on behalf of the Riverkeeper organization, dedicated to preserving the Hudson River watershed in New York State6. One of his earliest significant environmental cases while working with Riverkeepers was on behalf of the minority residents of Ossning in 19917.
In 2019, Kennedy was part of a legal team that won a major victory against Monsanto Corporation and its use of glyophosphate in pesticides8.
Perhaps the most colorful part of Kennedy’s career of activism has been his involvement in shutting down the use of Vieques Island by the US Navy for gunnery and bombardment practice.
Kennedy also presents a thesis that good environmental policy is also good economic policy. Pollution, he asserts, is a result of Big Business and Big Government corruption.
They privatize the river to make profits for themselves through corruption as coal generators are privatizing the air and my children’s lungs. And we have to understand that it is an act of theft. Pollution is a subsidy, and it’s an act of theft.
An externality is a cost or benefit caused by a producer that is not financially incurred or received by that producer. An externality can be both positive or negative and can stem from either the production or consumption of a good or service. The costs and benefits can be both private—to an individual or an organization—or social, meaning it can affect society as a whole.
Any time a cost arising from an individual entity’s activities is borne by the community as a whole, that cost is considered an externality. Pollution is in fact the classic example of an externality.
Most externalities are negative. Pollution is a well-known negative externality. A corporation may decide to cut costs and increase profits by implementing new operations that are more harmful to the environment. The corporation realizes costs in the form of expanding operations but also generates returns that are higher than the costs.
However, the externality also increases the aggregate cost to the economy and society making it a negative externality. Externalities are negative when the social costs outweigh the private costs.
From there, Kennedy moved on to a broad and sweeping condemnation of President Trump’s lockdown initiatives in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here again, I am in broad agreement with Robert Kennedy. Since before the lockdowns began I have written frequently on their lunacy and utter uselessness.
Kennedy also argues an important idea: extreme circumstances such as a pandemic or even a war do not abrogate our fundamental rights nor give government leave to curtail them.
Again, this is tracks with ideas I have argued previously, both in regards to COVID-19 vaccine mandates as well as the Second Amendment.
In the latter part of his speech, Kennedy argues two topics which are of considerable controversy: an “epidemic” of chronic disease in children—including autism—and support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
Clearly there are question surrounding a number of recent trends in pediatric illness.
There are evidences that children have been rendered “immunologically naive” from the lockdown protocols of 2020.
As for Ukraine, that is a topic unto itself. That the war itself exists needs no confirmation. Which side has moral right on their side will no doubt be a point of debate as the presidential campaign cycle unfolds. In his speech, Robert Kennedy plants himself on the Ukrainian side of that debate.
Now, having said that, I want to say that we are in the Ukraine for all the right reasons. We are there because we are a good people. And you know, Abraham Lincoln said America is a great nation because we’re a good nation, and we continue to be a good people. And we are there because of our compassion, the Ukrainian people who have been brutalized who’ve been illegally invaded and have shown extraordinary valor and courage, defending their country and defending, you know, their families and their beliefs and their liberties and their independence, things that Americans have to admire.
People are going to agree and disagree with his stance, and people are going to have their reasons for doing so. There is no straightforward reduction to facts regarding Ukraine as there is with other topics—much hinges upon what people consider legitimate reasons for war. Even the bulk of my own writing regarding Russia has focused mainly on the discernible economic impacts of both the war and the sanctions regime imposed on Russia. How Kennedy’s supporters will reconcile themselves to his support for Ukraine remains very much to be seen.
However, Kennedy moves on from that stance on Ukraine to a promise to largely end America’s foreign military adventures.
And I’m going to bring the troops home and I am going to start. I’m going to close the bases and I’m going to start investing in the United States middle class and our country and I’m going to make us an exemplary democracy.
Kennedy then brings all the threads of this speech together by defining what he means by a “Kennedy Democrat”:
I don’t want the Democratic Party to be the party of fear and pharma and war and censorship. We have to be more than just neocons with woke bobbleheads. We need we need you know, we need to stand up to corporations. We need to stand against war. We need to—we need to put our children first. We need to stop listening to the large corporations in many ways. And that’s what a Kennedy Democrat is. We need to bring this party back to the party of FDR, of JFK, of RFK, Martin Luther King, and those values.
Kennedy’s thesis is that he is running as what a Democrat “should be”—what a President “should be”. His agenda is not merely political, it is also philosophical and even moral. And his agenda is extremely broad. Of that there can be no doubt.
The reader might come away from this overview of Kennedy’s speech with the sense that I am leaning towards support for Kennedy the candidate. However, at this juncture, I am very much undecided as to particular candidates—and I hope to keep whatever inclinations I develop regarding various candidates largely on the sidelines of future political articles. I intend to keep the focus of “Politics Matters” on the facts behind what the candidates themselves say and do, and the facts which undergird the issues raised by each candidate.
My previous writings would make it disingenuous to pretend that Kennedy did not raise points with which I broadly agree. He did and I do. Whether those points amount to a sufficient argument to support Kennedy the candidate is a conclusion I have yet to reach in my own mind. There are points with which I am in agreement with Ron DeSantis.
Still, as with Ron DeSantis, we must appraise Kennedy’s speech and the campaign he will yet run with the same critical eye we would apply to DeSantis:
Has Robert Kennedy captured the crucial issues facing this nation? Has he stated a compelling vision for addressing those issues? Does his career to date give confidence that he would adroitly lead this nation in addressing those issues?
Voters will have to answer these questions in the sanctity of their own minds, as they will have to do with all candidates.
What we can say with certainty is that Robert Kennedy argued a number of political ills afflicting this nation. He presented a vision of how he means to address those ills. All the rest we must decide for ourselves.
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Stezano, M. What Is Patriots’ Day? | HISTORY. 1 Sept. 2018, https://www.history.com/news/what-is-patriots-day.
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