The problem for The New York Times, The Washington Post and other big media outlets that want to dismiss Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a conspiracy-theorist/nutjob is hard not to see: Their history isn’t exactly pristine either.
And RFK Jr. knows it. During “Reclaiming Democracy,” a two-hour Twitter conversation Monday, Kennedy and others teamed up with Elon Musk, the titan of Twitter and Tesla, to talk about things the establishment got wrong after shutting down alternative theories. The origins of the coronavirus still aren’t clear. Covid vaccines didn’t meet public expectations that the shots would prevent transmission. On the media front, the New York Post was right to report first-son Hunter Biden’s laptop, and The New York Times was wrong to wait.
“There’s a whole lot of conspiracy theories that have come true,” Michael Shellenberger, author of “San Fransicko: Why Progressives Ruin Cities” and a participant in “Reclaiming Democracy,” told me after the talk. The conversation could be tech agonistes first foray to take down Silicon Valley’s Bastille.
I can tick off the number of issues on which I disagree with the late Sen. Robert Kennedy’s son. RFK Jr., who is running in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary, claimed China “does not want to compete with us militarily.” He sees Big Pharma as the enemy, not an industry that has saved and enhanced countless lives. Kennedy also thinks then-Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., won the 2004 election. Kennedy also doesn’t believe Sirhan Sirhan was the lone assassin who gunned down his father in Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel in 1968.
Most famously, The New York Times reported, Kennedy claimed in 2005 that “mercury in vaccines had caused a rise in neurological disorders like autism.” The CDC web site plainly asserts that vaccines and their ingredients do not cause autism.
I think Kennedy’s wrong on China, Big Pharma and vaccines, but he has a right to say what he believes. And it’s downright un-American to try to silence him, as Instagram did in 2021 to shut down Kennedy’s “debunked claims about the coronavirus vaccines.”
It’s only because Kennedy is a declared 2024 candidate that Instagram ditched its role as high-tech black-lister and restored Kennedy’s account, as it does not ban the accounts of candidates for elective office.
Kennedy never should have had his account yanked. As Musk warned, “Unless the people that you don’t like can say things that you don’t like, it’s not free speech. And if you start censoring, it’s only a matter of time before that censorship is turned on you.” Amen.
Besides, if you shut down the speech of one free-thinker, you might miss out on something the pack scientists missed.
Rich Thau, president of Engagious and a moderator of the Swing Voter Project, sees in Kennedy a Democrat who isn’t moving toward the middle so much as offering “an interesting collection of positions.”
And he feels public distrust growing among Americans who aren’t paying attention to what Washington actually is doing.
Where I see healthy skepticism, Thau sees unhealthy nihilism. He asks focus group participants who they’d pick as president if they could just wave a magic wand. “And they have no one,” Thau told me. “And I get blank stares from most of them.” The rare names that pop up aren’t candidates; they’re celebrities. Oprah. Michelle Obama. Dwayne Johnson.
In 2016, Thau noted, Trump cobbled together an outside-the-box coalition that changed the GOP’s approach to trade and defense, and Trump won.
Thau doesn’t see Kennedy’s collection of misfit ideas getting the Democrat into the Oval Office, but a different Democrat, one closer to the center, could carve out an opportunity.
I’d like to see candidates who know what they don’t know and aren’t afraid to engage with skeptics and go off-script.
If 2024 becomes a Trump-Biden rematch, the public will be hungry for more.
Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at [email protected].
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