Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is receiving kudos (from the center and, at times, the right) for his unapologetic pro-American brand of old school liberalism. As a result, he has risen from political obscurity to spike up to 20% (higher in some polls) in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Bobby Kennedy’s son is a legitimate, iconoclastic throwback — a 60s liberal environmentalist — vax dissenter — and unapologetic believer in American exceptionalism. (For context, check out JFK’s “We Choose to go to the Moon” speech.) Those of you of a certain age will recognize what all this means: pro-labor, pro-worker, pro-environment, pro-equality and pro-America views that are often at odds with the nefarious brand of secular progressivism that presently dominates America’s labor party.
Indeed, RFK Jr. promotes these themes with the full knowledge they are out of sync with the current-day cultural elites who presently seek to “transform” our country. But he is unafraid of cancel culture for a simple reason: it has no bounds.
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Its rules of engagement change every day as the next set of forbidden words or newly blessed interest groups are given rhetorical protection. As a result, nobody knows the rules or conventions of the day — what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, according to the whims of our self-appointed value makers.
Of special note is RFK Jr.’s disinclination to abandon his generation’s enthusiasm for the First Amendment, another welcome throwback to the days of non-progressive Democrats. Indeed, he seems especially agitated that his party’s great tradition of free speech and spirited dissent is not only suppressed by corporate media, but is daily degraded by campus speech codes and safe zones and trigger warnings and micro-aggressions and whatever new speech suppression constructs were invented just last week.
He understands this newly minted interpretation of civil liberties is offered in the name of not offending anyone … ever — an ill-advised notion wholly at odds with the left’s long-held views on speech.
He understands that agreeable speech is easy. That disagreeable speech is what the framers thought the Bill of Rights was meant to protect. You can look it up — at least those of us who were taught U.S. History in high school.
His anti-vax moniker has produced plenty of negative media coverage and cost him political allies on the left. Such is the political price to pay when the target of your New York Times best seller is Dr. Anthony Fauci. But it is nevertheless apparent that his once suppressed opinions regarding the safety and efficacy of the COVID vaccines have to some extent been vindicated.
Here, “believe the science” has to work both ways, even when inconvenient (and embarrassing) for the culture’s dominant opinion makers.
Another opinion at variance with party orthodoxy is border security. You may have read that he recently visited the southern border. He wanted to see for himself what everybody suspects — that the 6.5 million “encounters” — 1.5 million “gotaways” — and 250,000 unaccompanied children are only the tip of a chaotic, unsustainable iceberg. And all because the current administration assured the world America’s borders were open.
Finally, although history often places his father and Dr. Martin Luther King side by side, the well-reported truth is that there was no love lost between the civil rights leader and the Kennedy boys. Still, it is easy to associate MLK’s famous admonition of character over race with RFK Jr.’s — and his father’s — steadfast support for civil rights.
RFK’s brutally direct messaging is a difficult sell to a party all-in on progressive ideology. This approach in no way enhances his chances of securing the Democratic nomination.
But for those desperate for a sign (any sign) that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a woke freight train heading in the wrong direction … it is an encouraging development on the long and bumpy road (back) toward traditional liberalism.
The bottom line: RFK Jr. represents a more reasonable version of this liberal tradition, less tethered to immovable radicalism and more open to practical consensual politics and policy.
Bob Ehrlich is a former Governor of Maryland, Member of Congress, and State Legislator. He is the author of five books on American politics and opinion pieces that have appeared in America’s leading newspapers and periodicals. He and his wife, Kendel, can be seen and heard on their weekly podcast, “Bottom Line with Bob & Kendel Ehrlich.”
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Tampa Free Press.
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