December 8, 2023

Nationwide Information

RFK Jr., the fourth Kennedy to run for president, is clashing with fantasy and historical past — and his family.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in Annapolis, Md., on Nov. 6. MUST CREDIT: Shuran Huang for The Washington Publish

Maybe Camelot, as a political metaphor, used to really feel like an precise fortress: sturdy stone partitions, stunning gardens and admirers strolling on hallowed grounds tended by generations of Kennedys, ever since Jackie first verbalized the symbolism within the days after her husband’s assassination.

However in the meanwhile, you would possibly argue that Camelot is represented not by a turreted fortress however by a squat nightclub named Vibe exterior of Annapolis, Md., the place disco balls illuminated the keen faces of lots of gathered final week to see probably the most distinguished — or most seen — member of the household, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who’s now operating an impartial marketing campaign for president.

Inside, “BOBBY! BOBBY!” chants broke out as folks waited for him to reach. Some took footage with a backdrop that mentioned “Kennedy 24: Declare Your Independence.” Some took footage with a neon signal that learn “B*tch, don’t kill my vibe.”

There are dueling visions of Camelot competing for Individuals’ consideration this month, which marks 60 years since President John F. Kennedy was killed. On one facet are the documentaries and public memorializing of Kennedy and his legacy. On the opposite facet is his 69-year-old nephew, RFK Jr., who has unfold falsehoods about vaccines and, in line with the New York Publish, claimed that the coronavirus was “focused” to sicken Black and Caucasian folks and spare Chinese language folks and Ashkenazi Jews (RFK Jr. mentioned that these feedback had been misinterpreted to smear him).

“There’s a pleasant Maryland connection to the Kennedy household,” mentioned Josh Mazer, the marketing campaign’s Maryland chairman, introducing the candidate at Vibe. “Our pretty and fashionable former first girl, Kennedy Kathleen Townsend” — truly, Kennedy Townsend — “is a resident. We love her very a lot. We hope she’s doing effectively. We hope she votes for Bobby.”

The group laughed. Townsend is not going to be voting for Bobby.

She, together with three of her siblings, issued a press release final month when he relaunched his marketing campaign as an impartial, after beginning as a Democrat. They known as their brother’s run “harmful to our nation,” and mentioned that “Bobby would possibly share the identical title as our father, however he doesn’t share the identical values, imaginative and prescient or judgment. As we speak’s announcement is deeply saddening for us. We denounce his candidacy and consider it to be perilous for our nation.” Its co-signatories are Rory Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy and Joseph P. Kennedy II.

The collective keepers of the Camelot legacy are frightened, and possibly for good purpose. A Quinnipiac College nationwide ballot launched this month discovered proof, nonetheless momentary, that RFK Jr.’s imaginative and prescient is resonating — and/or voters are sad with their mainstream selections: 22 p.c supported RFK Jr. in a hypothetical three-way race in opposition to President Biden and former president Donald Trump.

“If I get 34 p.c within the battleground states, I can win these electors,” RFK Jr. advised the gang at Vibe. “It’s winner take all. So in a three-way race, all I’ve to do is beat the opposite two by a degree.” He made it appear so easy, so destined, this plan for a second Kennedy White Home, 60 years after the primary resulted in tragedy. He advised the gang: “That is very doable.”

Within the inexperienced room later, when requested to replicate on the blessings and burdens of rising up Kennedy, RFK Jr. demurred. “It was all blessings,” he mentioned. Then he steadily grew extra exasperated with the road of questioning, till he requested to go off the document to say what he actually felt.

Being a Kennedy

What does it imply to be a Kennedy in 2023? It means inheriting wealth, privilege and a patrician responsibility to 1’s nation. It means folks consistently asking about your loved ones, irrespective of how a lot you’d like to face by yourself. It means generational trauma and intense scrutiny. It means having to listen to and ignore any variety of conspiracy theories. (Some QAnon believers say that John F. Kennedy Jr. is alive — he died in a aircraft crash in 1999 — and shall be Trump’s operating mate in 2024.)

RFK Jr. is the fourth Kennedy in his household to run for president — fifth in case you embrace his uncle by marriage, Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 1976.

Three Kennedys are at present serving within the administration that RFK Jr. hopes to dislodge: Caroline Kennedy (his cousin) is ambassador to Australia, Victoria Reggie Kennedy (widow of his uncle Ted) is ambassador to Austria, and Joe Kennedy (his nephew) is the particular envoy to Northern Eire.

However did you even know this? Maybe you’ve heard extra about RFK Jr.’s shirtless push-up movies, or his falconry or the latest TMZ report about his barefoot stroll to and from an airplane toilet.

The Kennedys are “receding into historical past with every passing yr,” says Larry Sabato, director of the Middle for Politics on the College of Virginia. Sabato asks his college students yearly in the event that they know what Camelot means in relation to the Kennedy household. Out of 150 or so college students, often round three increase their palms.

The notion of Camelot, because it pertains to the Kennedys, got here from an interview that the grieving Jacqueline Kennedy gave to Life Journal, revealed two weeks after her husband’s assassination. She recalled listening to the document of the musical “Camelot,” about King Arthur, with the president at evening, and quoted some lyrics: “Don’t let or not it’s forgot, that after there was a spot, for one transient shining second that was generally known as Camelot.”

“There’ll be nice presidents once more,” she advised Life, however “there’ll by no means be one other Camelot once more.”

For a shocked and saddened nation, the legendary encomium was a balm that hardened right into a basis of nostalgia and revisionist historical past. It imbued the Kennedy household with a sheen of fake royalty, even by way of occasions of scandal and tragedy (so many tragedies). As an aesthetic, it has persevered: A brand new e-book concerning the model of JFK Jr.’s spouse Carolyn Bessette Kennedy — who additionally perished within the aircraft crash in 1999 — celebrates the enigmatic blonde vogue publicist as “the Camelot bride.”

Jackie’s apparel stays the gold normal for political spouses who need to convey respectability. Florida’s first girl Casey DeSantis, who has a penchant for capes and elbow-length gloves, has been accused of Kennedy cosplay, incomes herself the nickname “Jackie No.”

Over time, although, “the Camelot picture turned — what can be the phrase for it?” muses James Piereson, writer of “Camelot and the Cultural Revolution.” He arrives at: “A bit bit corny. Schmaltzy. And probably not applicable for a sort of a cynical and complicated public that emerged within the Seventies.”

America is nice at making a fantasy however higher at tearing it down, and the Kennedys generally abetted their very own dishonor. JFK, we now know, was a womanizer with a reckless streak. A yr after Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, his brother Ted drove off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island. The crash killed former RFK marketing campaign employee Mary Jo Kopechne; Ted waited 10 hours to alert the police.

RFK Jr.’s department of the household tree has suffered greater than lots of the others: At 14, he was a pallbearer at his father’s funeral. His brother David died of a drug overdose in 1984 and his brother Michael died in a snowboarding accident in 1997. Mary Richardson, his ex-wife and mom of 4 of his youngsters, died by suicide in 2012.

Maybe as a result of they’ve suffered a lot, “the Kennedys are famously clannish they usually don’t wish to name each other out,” says Sabato, who’s pleasant with a number of family members. “Definitely not in public.”

Which makes their condemnation of RFK Jr.’s marketing campaign all of the extra notable. Along with the assertion from 4 of his siblings, different members of the family have made clear their views on RFK Jr.’s controversial opinions.

“My uncle’s feedback had been hurtful and incorrect,” former congressman Joe Kennedy tweeted after RFK Jr.’s remarks about COVID-19. “I unequivocally condemn what he mentioned.”

“His statements don’t characterize what I consider or what Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights stand for,” wrote sister Kerry Kennedy, who runs the muse named after her father, in July.

RFK Jr. wrote on X, previously Twitter, that his feedback about COVID and Jews had been misunderstood, and that the journalist who reported them “exploited this OFF-THE-RECORD dialog to smear me by affiliation with an outlandish conspiracy concept.”

In a USA As we speak opinion column, cousin Patrick J. Kennedy argued that the present president is the keeper of the Kennedy flame: “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claims to comply with in JFK’s footsteps. Biden truly is.”

In an electronic mail response to The Washington Publish, RFK Jr.’s niece Kerry Kennedy Meltzer, a physician, wrote: “One of many nice privileges of being a member of my household is that I’m surrounded by individuals who struggle for what they consider in. . . . These are values that helped me determine to develop into a doctor. They’re additionally among the many causes I’ve discovered it onerous to have an uncle who’s publicizing conspiratorial views about vaccines and public well being — ones that I consider will hurt Individuals. Lots of people have uncles who say offensive and unfaithful issues, however my uncle Bobby is a candidate for president. It’s one thing I can’t ignore.”

Sturdy phrases have additionally come from Jack Schlossberg, JFK’s solely grandson, and son of Caroline Kennedy. In an Instagram reel, Schlossberg listed Biden’s achievements and condemned his cousin’s candidacy.

“He’s buying and selling in on Camelot, movie star, conspiracy theories and battle for private acquire and fame,” Schlossberg mentioned. “I’ve listened to him. I do know him. I don’t know why anybody thinks he must be president.”

He later doubled down in an interview on the “As we speak” present alongside his mom.

“I’m very glad I did it. I stand by what I mentioned in my video,” Schlossberg advised host Savannah Guthrie. “I like my household and I’m very happy with our legacy of public service.”

“These had been harsh phrases although, Jack,” mentioned Guthrie. “I imply, you mentioned he’s utilizing Camelot. He’s basically abusing the household title in a method.”

Guthrie then addressed Caroline: “And is it sophisticated proper now? Given this example, you clearly are — “

“Not sophisticated,” mentioned Caroline.

“Why not?”

“Why not? As a result of I do know what I believe. I do know what Jack thinks. I do know what Bobby Kennedy thinks. And so, um, it’s not sophisticated.”

Household issues

Does her cousin agree?

“I’ve an awesome relationship with my household,” mentioned RFK Jr., standing within the inexperienced room after taking lots of of selfies with the adoring crowd at Vibe.

He had taken off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. After placing in a dinner order along with his employees — hen, potato salad, coleslaw and jelly to go together with the hen — he sat in a mustard-yellow chair. His communications director, who was current, had been advised the subject of the dialog prematurely, nevertheless it was clear RFK Jr. was not thrilled.

“We had been raised to, you recognize, to debate, and argue with one another . . . however to do it congenially and to have the ability to differ with one another on points,” he mentioned in his low, gravelly voice, the product of a neurological situation known as spasmodic dysphonia.

Requested which members of the family help his marketing campaign, he listed his cousin Anthony Shriver — founding father of Greatest Buddies, a nonprofit that helps youngsters with mental and bodily disabilities — and his youthful brothers Max and Douglas. Neither brother responded to The Publish‘s makes an attempt to succeed in them for remark, however after this story revealed on-line, Max Kennedy contacted The Publish to say he doesn’t help his brother’s marketing campaign and that he helps Biden.

“I believe there at the moment are 105 members of my household,” mentioned RFK Jr., “And I’d say that they’re most likely evenly divided, those that help me and those that are much less supportive.”

And what does the notion of Camelot imply to him now?

“I’m not going to touch upon that,” he mentioned, curtly. This was shortly earlier than he requested to talk off the document, and as soon as agreed to, unleashed a few of his ideas.

Who might blame Kennedy for being upset? It should be disagreeable to spend your life answering intermittent questions concerning the glories and tragedies in your loved ones, once you’d a lot somewhat speak about your accomplishments — the way you cleaned up the Hudson River, for instance, and sued Monsanto. However the place would his candidacy be with out the Kennedy title? He invokes his household legacy when it’s handy for him. He positions himself as inheritor to his forebears’ aspirations.

“For those who go down the guidelines of issues that my uncle and father believed in, I’d examine each field,” he mentioned.

Among the issues that RFK Jr. believes in: Discontinuing U.S. help for Ukraine. Discrediting vaccines, which he has falsely claimed could cause autism. Bitcoin. A obscure “they” — the institution, the banks — that’s sinister and all-controlling.

“They’ve us all at one another’s throats,” he advised the gang at Vibe. “They’ve a components.”

Mike Barnicle has been a good friend of the household for many years, and has recognized RFK Jr. for many of his life.

“He’s very good. He’s very sophisticated,” says Barnicle, a political commentator who labored as a volunteer for RFK Sr.’s presidential marketing campaign in 1968. “It doesn’t matter what he says, irrespective of how weird, loopy or flat out incorrect it’s, he believes it. He’s not making it up.”

However the query Barnicle can’t reply is: is RFK Jr. like this?

How did a person with the last word insider title develop into a controversial outsider candidate?

Armchair psychologists speak about post-traumatic stress dysfunction, concerning the private weight of household assassinations, about conspiracy theories used to order the chaos of a violent America. One of many conspiracy theories that RFK Jr. promotes is that the CIA, not a lone gunman, was answerable for his father and uncle’s deaths. RFK Jr. supported the parole of Sirhan Sirhan, the person convicted of killing his father, when a lot of his siblings opposed it.

A majority of Individuals suppose there was a conspiracy, not less than relating to his uncle. A Gallup ballot launched Monday discovered that 65 p.c of U.S. adults consider that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t act alone within the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The marketing campaign path has a method of bringing again traumatic reminiscences. In September, a person was arrested for bringing a gun to an RFK Jr. marketing campaign occasion. Final month, one other man was arrested for making an attempt to interrupt into the Los Angeles dwelling that the candidate shares along with his spouse, actress Cheryl Hines. RFK Jr. and his personal safety element requested Secret Service safety. It has not but been granted.

“His braveness to be right here and have occasions like this, even along with his personal safety is superb. I imply, it actually speaks to somebody who actually cares deeply about what they need to create,” mentioned Heather MacMillan, 50, an RFK Jr. supporter on the Annapolis occasion. She was obscure about what she noticed in him, saying, “I’m primarily focused on statesmen coming to the fore on this nation.”

Kennedy’s meandering speech at Vibe addressed homelessness, U.S. assist to Ukraine and the political affect of firms akin to BlackRock and State Road. He spoke of his youngsters, who went to “nice faculties they usually have good jobs, however none of them are on the lookout for a house and none of their mates are. They’re determining pay their school debt. And the thought of proudly owning a house is completely out of attain.” (Forbes estimates that RFK Jr.’s web value is roughly $15 million.)

He pledged that in his first week as president, he would “dramatically scale back” the Nationwide Institutes of Well being’s analysis into infectious ailments.

“Cling Fauci!” a supporter yelled.

His viewers appeared inclined to help him as a result of they, too, have been dismissed — generally by their very own household.

Mentioned supporter Alan Chavis, 65, a truck driver from Baltimore: “I obtained members of the family that received’t discuss to me.”