Robert F. Kennedy, Political Royalty and Prominent Anti-Vaxxer, Is Running for President

Kennedy largely shies away from talking about vaccines in his announcement, but the issue is expected to dominate discussion of his campaign.

Caroline McCaughey/The New York Sun
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announces that he is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination at a rally at Boston Wednesday. Caroline McCaughey/The New York Sun

BOSTON — An environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine advocate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has formally launched his campaign for the 2024 Democratic nomination for president.

The nephew of President John F. Kennedy and son of the former attorney general and slain 1968 presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy, Mr. Kennedy on Wednesday in Boston framed his candidacy as a legacy to and revitalization of the Kennedy Democrat: a champion of the middle class, a truth teller, and a protector of the Constitution. A former Ohio congressman, Dennis Kucinich, introduced Mr. Kennedy and repeated the refrain “a Kennedy Democrat is” with a list of principles, including “unity” and protecting civil liberties. 

“I am here today to announce my candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States,” Mr. Kennedy said. “My mission over the next 18 months of this campaign and throughout my presidency will be to end the corrupt merger of state and corporate power that is threatening now to impose a new kind of corporate feudalism in our country.”

Mr. Kennedy peppered his speech with stories of his father and likened his long-shot bid for the White House to his father’s 1968 challenge to the Democratic incumbent president, Lyndon Johnson. President Biden has yet to announce his re-election campaign but has said he will do so shortly. The only other Democrat in the race so far is a self-help author, Marianne Williamson.

Jean Tobin, of Long Island, New York, turned out for Mr. Kennedy's announcement at Boston Wednesday.
A sign at the Boston announcement on Wednesday. Caroline McCaughey/The New York Sun

Best known for his anti-vaccine advocacy work with the Children’s Health Defense, Mr. Kennedy largely shied away from speaking about vaccines. He spoke for nearly two hours to a packed ballroom with a standing-room-only overflow room, joking at one point, “This is what happens when you censor somebody for 18 years.”

Mr. Kennedy also railed against the press, saying “we know the media lies to us. Everybody knows that.” Mr. Kennedy’s speech in New Hampshire last month, during which he teased his run and spent a considerable time talking about vaccines, was taken down by YouTube. His social media presence has also been censored.

Mr. Kennedy also spoke about the harm the Covid lockdowns caused and blamed President Trump for listening to his health “experts.” He called lockdowns a “war on the poor” and a “war on children.” He asked a Black business owner to stand up on the podium behind him, telling the story of how the man’s restaurant ended up in bankruptcy after being a huge success because of Covid closures.

“This story can be told thousands of times across the country,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We need a president at this time who can stand up to his bureaucracy.”

Mr. Kennedy also spoke about his work as an environmental lawyer, painting environmental justice as racial and economic justice, and good for the working class — “hook and bullet people.”

“There is no daylight between good environmental policy and good economic policy,” Mr. Kennedy said, describing “environmental looting” as “deficit spending.”

Healing the country’s political polarization was another topic the 69-year-old candidate addressed. Audience members held up signs that read, “Heal the divide.” The Sun spoke with more than a dozen members of the audience, most of whom described themselves as Republicans or independents. Few said they were Democrats.

Two audience members, Stacy Jessen and her sister Janie, say they traveled to Boston from South Carolina to see Mr. Kennedy launch his campaign. Both registered Republicans, the Jessen sisters say they were skeptical of Covid vaccines and masking, and started following Mr. Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense during the pandemic. “We like his message about Covid, vaccines, medical freedom,” Stacy Jessen tells the Sun.

Both Jessen sisters, who run a dog boarding facility at Charleston, say they will be switching their voter registration to Democrat to vote for Mr. Kennedy in the primary. If he drops out of the race, their second choice is the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has yet to formally get in the race. “Anybody but Biden,” Ms. Jessen says.

Caroline McCaughey/The New York Sun

A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released today shows only 67 percent of Mr. Biden’s 2020 voters support him for the Democratic nomination over his current challengers. Mr. Kennedy earns 14 percent of that support, Ms. Williamson gets 5 percent, and another 13 percent say they are undecided.

The excitement in the Boston hotel ballroom was palpable. The Sun spoke with people who had traveled from Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts for the speech. One woman said the first ever vote she cast was for John F. Kennedy in 1960.

A New Hampshire Democrat, Teresa Marchese, says she plans to volunteer for Mr. Kennedy’s campaign in the first-in-the-nation primary. Ms. Marchese lived in San Francisco for 30 years until Covid, saying the City by the Bay’s “pandemic policies pretty much pushed us out.” She says free speech, medical freedom, and protecting the Constitution are her top priorities.

“We have a polarization in this country today that is so toxic and so dangerous, more than any time since the Civil War,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Kennedy thanked his family members for joining him at his campaign launch, and then joked that “there are other members of my family who are not here.” In 2019, three of his family members penned an op-ed for Politico titled, “RFK Jr. Is Our Brother and Uncle. He’s Tragically Wrong About Vaccines.”

As he hit the hour mark in his speech, Mr. Kennedy said he had one more topic, and then revised that to two. He then spoke briefly about the rise of childhood diseases like autism, allergies, and autoimmune disorders, never connecting them to vaccines directly but alluding to it.

“If I am the president of the United States, I am going to end the chronic disease epidemic,” Mr. Kennedy said to a standing ovation. “If I have not significantly dropped the level of chronic disease in our children by the end of my first term, I do not want to get re-elected.”

Mr. Kennedy also spoke about the war in Ukraine, questioning America’s motives for getting involved and saying we need to seriously ask, “Is this war in the national interest?” He praised the humanitarian intentions of America’s involvement but asked whether it is really a proxy war with Russia focused on regime change. He said America tried that in Iraq and failed. His position on Ukraine sounded more Republican or libertarian than Democrat.

“I am not an ideal presidential candidate for normal times,” Mr. Kennedy joked near the end of his speech. “The issues that I have attached myself to — anybody who looks at those issues cannot say, ‘Oh, this guy is just trying to get into the White House.’”

“I’ve got so many skeletons in my closet that if they could vote I could be king of the world,” Mr. Kennedy said. “But these are not normal circumstances … I don’t want the Democratic Party to be the party of fear and pharma and war and censorship.” 

The New York Sun

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