RFK Jr. at an event in New York
RFK Jr. speaks in opposition to COVID-19 public safety measures at an event in New York (Photo: Pamela Drew, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Research­ing a class paper on the 1964 Civ­il Rights Act, years ago in upper floors of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Notre Dame’s Hes­burgh Library — around a cor­ner from its “Touch­down Jesus” mur­al — I acquired a cou­ple of per­son­al heroes who rep­re­sent­ed our coun­try” bet­ter angels.”

They were Rep­re­sen­ta­tive William McCul­loch of Ohio, rank­ing Repub­li­can on the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee, and senior Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dick Bolling of Mis­souri. Bolling was strate­gist as the 1964 Civ­il Rights Act was marked up in com­mit­tee. Along with fel­low Repub­li­can mem­bers Charles “Mac” Math­ias of Mary­land and John V. Lind­say of New York, McCul­loch insist­ed the bill con­tain a strong guar­an­tee of pub­lic accommodations.

McCul­loch was, in Pres­i­dent Lyn­don Johnson’s words, “the most impor­tant and pow­er­ful force” in get­ting a meaty bill.

The Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee, near­ly six­ty years lat­er, could be cit­ed as proof that Dar­win was wrong. Its Repub­li­can ranks are dom­i­nat­ed by the most extreme ultra MAGA Repub­li­cans, with the pan­el chaired by the nasty, shout­ing Rep­re­sen­ta­tive  Jim Jor­dan, also of Ohio.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzan Del­Bene, D‑Washington, found her­self con­fronting the extrem­ists some years back when Judi­cia­ry cre­at­ed a “spe­cial sub­com­mit­tee’ to probe alle­ga­tions that Planned Par­ent­hood was deal­ing in body parts of for­mer fetus­es. The “evi­dence con­sist­ed of heav­i­ly spliced edit­ed tapes made in secret record­ings by Project Ver­i­tas and far-right dirty trick­ster James O’Keefe.

The pan­el was chaired by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive (now Sen­a­tor) Mar­sha Black­burn, her­self a deal­er in mis­in­for­ma­tion and disinformation.

The Repub­li­cans, back in nar­row con­trol, con­vened a hear­ing Thurs­day to talk about “Weaponiza­tion of the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment.” They pro­duced as wit­ness a ringer, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the anti-vaxxer con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist who is chal­leng­ing Pres­i­dent Biden for the 2024 Demo­c­ra­t­ic nomination.

RFK Jr., was giv­en a nation­al plat­form to com­plain about TV net­works, the Biden admin­is­tra­tion and COVID-19 vac­cines. No fam­i­ly mem­bers accom­pa­nied him: The Kennedy clan has repu­di­at­ed his the­o­ries, and even Kennedy’s lat­est wife says she dis­agrees with him. Instead, his back­up was ex-Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Den­nis Kucinich, who was ger­ry­man­dered out of his House seat but then signed by Rupert Mod­och’s FNC as a left­ist foil. Kucinich is man­ag­ing Kennedy’s campaign.

The pur­pose of the hear­ing was to have Kennedy car­ry the torch for the polit­i­cal right, and he was hap­py to oblige. He came through with a litany of their favorite tar­gets, from the mass media to big tech com­pa­nies. He declared him­self the vic­tim of “mal­in­for­ma­tion” by a sin­is­ter alliance of gov­ern­ment offi­cials and tech giants. Face­book and Insta­gram, in 2022, restrict­ed the accounts of Kennedy’s front group, the Children’s Health Alliance, on grounds of misinformation.

More than one hun­dred House Democ­rats signed a let­ter last week­end urg­ing Repub­li­cans to yank their invite for Kennedy to appear. They cit­ed remarks by REFK, Jr., at a New York fundrais­er in which he said – with­out evi­dence – that the COVID-19 virus was “tar­get­ed to attack Cau­casians and Black peo­ple” while “the peo­ple who are most immune are Ashke­nazi (Euro­pean) Jews and Chinese.”

He sug­gest­ed groups had been “delib­er­ate­ly tar­get­ed” and spec­u­lat­ed that Chi­nese sci­en­tists are devel­op­ing “eth­nic bioweapons… so we can tar­get peo­ple by race.”

On a par­ty line vote, com­mit­tee Repub­li­cans vot­ed down a motion by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz, D‑Florida, to end the hear­ing and go into exec­u­tive ses­sion. Kennedy was left free to vent, and repeat­ed­ly, shame­less­ly iden­ti­fy him­self with his father and uncle Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy – and also Thomas Jef­fer­son, Amer­i­ca’s third president.

“You are here for cyn­i­cal rea­sons to be used by that side of the aisle to embar­rass the cur­rent Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States: You’re an enabler of that effort and it brings shame on a sto­ried name that I revere,” Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Ger­ry Con­nol­ly, D‑Virginia, told RFK, Jr.

Once an achiev­ing envi­ron­men­tal lawyer – he direct­ed efforts to clean up New York waters – Kennedy has gone off the deep end.

He has likened the suf­fer­ing of unvac­ci­nat­ed Amer­i­cans to vic­tims of the Holo­caust, and evoked com­par­isons with Anne Frank. (He did lat­er apologize.)

He has even spec­u­lat­ed that chem­i­cals in water turn kids transgender.

Kennedy has repeat­ed­ly pushed a now-debunked study, pub­lished in and lat­er retract­ed by The Lancet, which claimed that mer­cury in com­mon vac­cines caused an increase in child­hood autism.

Our Wash­ing­ton last saw RFK, Jr., in 2019. The state had expe­ri­enced a measles out­break in South­west Wash­ing­ton, large­ly among unvac­ci­nat­ed Russ­ian emi­gree chil­dren. The Leg­is­la­ture took up a bill to remove personal/philosophical exemp­tions from school vac­ci­na­tion requirements.

Kennedy spun his con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries at a hear­ing crowd­ed with anti-vaxxers. The leg­is­la­tion passed, but with near-unan­i­mous Repub­li­can opposition.

Hav­ing spent years cov­er­ing RFK Jr’s per­son­al life in sala­cious detail, the Mur­doch media have turned into his cheerleaders.

RFK Jr. left Thursday’s hear­ing for an appear­ance on FNC.

Sean Han­ni­ty has him booked for a “town hall” next Tues­day. He has made com­mon cause with Lau­ra Ingra­ham denounc­ing U.S. aid to Ukraine.

Oth­er signs he is a Repub­li­can ringer? One Jason Boles is list­ed as trea­sur­er of the Kennedy super PAC called “Heal the Divide.” Democ­rats point­ed out at the hear­ing that Boles is also list­ed in FEC fil­ings as trea­sur­er of com­mit­tees for Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene, Lau­re Boe­bert and George San­tos, and that he was involved in Her­schel Walker’s Sen­ate cam­paign in Georgia.

The Kennedy fam­i­ly has spo­ken out in sor­row and anguish. Ker­ry Kennedy has described RFK Jr’s remarks on COVID as “deplorable and untruthful.”

His nephew, for­mer Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Joseph P. Kennedy III tweet­ed: “My uncle’s com­ments were hurt­ful and wrong.”

Jack Schloss­berg, a grand­son of our thir­ty-fifth pres­i­dent, was even blunter: “Trad­ing on Camelot, cel­e­brat­ing con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and con­flict for per­son­al gain & fame… I’ve lis­tened to him, I know him, I have no idea why any­one thinks he should be pres­i­dent. What I do know is his can­di­da­cy is an embarrassment.”

As for our Com­man­der-in-Chief, the thir­ty-year-old Schloss­berg described our incum­bent Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dent as the country’s “great­est pro­gres­sive pres­i­dent we’ve ever had. Joe Biden shares my grandfather’s dream for Amer­i­ca that we do things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

“Let’s not be dis­tract­ed again by somebody’s van­i­ty project.”

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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