[guest post by JVW]
As the hip, articulate, and plugged-in Patterico’s Pontifications crowd knows, Robert Francis Kennedy Jr. has announced that he will no longer be a candidate for the Democrat Party’s Presidential nomination in 2024 and instead plans to run as an independent, thus bypassing an unwinnable primary election in the hopes of qualifying for the Presidential ballot in all
fifty-seven (not quite accurate, Mr. Obama) fifty states. Teresa Mull of The Spectator attended yesterday’s RFK Jr. announcement in Philadelphia and delivers a withering account of the pathos of a fading political dynasty from a long-gone era:
Had you blindfolded me yesterday morning, led me to the front lawn of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, removed my blinder and asked me to guess where we were, I would have said, “A James Taylor benefit concert for NPR.”
In the crowd on this sunny fall day was a heavy contingent of the boomer delegation, of various stripes and checks. There were even some traditional tweed, and, with blazers out in full force, on both men and women, paired mostly with denim — though late-season red chinos and season-rushing corduroys were on display, too — and invariably some statement eyewear, leather dress shoes, and baseball caps keeping flowy silver hair tamed and sun-spotted skin safe. It was plain from their collective style that this group was at least self-aware. Their well-thought-out attire was meant to send a message: they are (average age sixty-seven and a half) intentional. Deliberate. Outside thinkers. Borderline intellectuals… but still also down to hang as one of the gang! Sure, their designer jeans cost more than the average American’s monthly car payment, but they’re still jeans! Blue-collar workwear! And yes, Vassar College costs $63,000 a year, but the fact that the Brewer field hockey ball cap is faded offsets that.
I know a lot of our readers hail from or reside in locations such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Colorado, Chicago, New York, and other places where Ms. Mull’s description of the crowd brings an unpleasant familiarity. It won’t surprise any of you to learn that the intellectual substance — such that it was — of the rally was rather shallow:
[. . . ] In a series of DEI round-robin, a forty-something hipster spoke about being “for cool art, living art, creation!” and challenged people, “Vote for Bobby? NO! Listen to Bobby!” He told us we were part of “an acceptance movement, not a resistance” and called us to participate in the “most beautiful ways possible.”
A “visionary artist” named Amanda Sage served up a bigger word salad than Kamala Harris could ever hope to toss together; it concluded with something about “linking your visions so that it will come true.” I was distracted by an interview going on behind me with a woman cooing over “Bobby’s” virtues: Bobby cares about “people and not fighting,” she said with passion. He also has “a vision for kindness and the health of our planet and… animals!”
In fact, Ms. Mull had trouble getting any RFK Jr. supporter to explicitly point to anything their man had to offer by way of public policy:
I took a turn at surveying the Stuff White People Like convention and first spoke to a couple from Boston. “Why do you two support RFK?” “What do we support about him? Honey, you go first.” The wife, an immigrant from the Philippines, said she liked his foreign policy, and the husband backed her up by asserting RFK is willing to “listen to his adversary.”
Another wife, who drove down from the easternmost point of Maine, said she appreciated RFK’s personality, his “tenacity” and “integrity” — while her husband nodded in agreement.
A younger pair, from New Jersey, stuttered and shifted uneasily when I asked what they liked about RFK. “Policy-wise,” I clarified, when they seemed taken aback. Seeming to pull the only policy-related fact they knew out of the air, one of them muttered quickly, “the fact that he actually went to the border. That says it all right there. Thank you.” (with “Please go away now and stop putting us on the spot” implied.)
Meanwhile, a self-identified “young American” voter with bleached hair had taken the stage to attest that his demographic was “fed-up.” A member of the Veterans for Kennedy coalition followed him, and next a rabbi. There was a moment of silence for Israel, and cheers when the rabbi declared that denying RFK Secret Service protection was an “American abomination.” The rabbi referenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and RFK’s aim of transforming “hate into love” and “division into tolerance” to bring about “American oneness.” More cheers.
Of course one can’t expressly blame the Kennedy Krewe for their banality when the idea of substituting pithy pronouncements has long since displaced the need to have a proscriptive policy platform. In an era when the two major parties nominate blowhards who promise low taxes, lavish social services, a strong defense, and balanced budgets (eventually, just not yet), it’s sort of hard to ding a — er — dingbat like RFK Jr. for running on a platform of tolerant populism when that concoction of unicorn farts and pixie dust is every bit as plausible as what the Republicans and Democrats are promising. But it still doesn’t make RFK Jr. any more believable than a Biden, Trump, DeSantis, Harris, Sanders, or Gaetz.
The appeal to the pipe dream of constructive and considerate cooperation doesn’t change the fact that RFK Jr. appears to draw nearly all of his support from disaffected Boomers who seem to resent the fact that their half-century hold on what passes for conventional wisdom has drawn to a close:
From what I observed Bobby’s supporters largely consist of people from the left who realized the radical progressive agenda has gone so far that it’s actually started to tarnish their ivory towers. “Humanitarian” border policies and soft-on-crime procedures, for instance, have left their beloved cities unsafe, riddled with drugs and unsanitary homeless encampments. They want to pivot, but need to save face. Joe Biden is no longer an option, and rather than support a Republican and appear intolerant, by supporting Kennedy, they can instead look enlightened. [. . .]
People are tired of fighting, tired of the “surveillance state quashing debate,” tired of low wages. They’re tired of living paycheck to paycheck, of “the corporate party system.” RFK Jr. said these things over and over in dozens of ways, declaring his popularity among both sides of the aisle and promising hope and unity. Rather than ask people, “what side are you?” RFK wants to know, “what do you care about?”
The theme of the Kennedy announcement event was that Americans are tired of the name-calling and venom; they want to declare their independence from the status quo in favor of “something new.”
This concept earned a lot of cheers from the starry-eyed boomers — but one thing missing, other than promising to listen to the people and proclaiming he wasn’t controlled by any of the “Bigs,” Bobby didn’t say how he was planning to unify the polarized country. His supporters were very much not living paycheck to paycheck — and when he proclaimed people can be pro-life and not be considered “women-hating zealots,” the applause was noticeably quieted.
Someone near the front of the crowd held up a sign that said it all: “I want Camelot.” RFK Jr. supporters don’t appear to want anything new. They want to be seen as aware, thoughtful and superior, while continuing to live out a comfortable, consequences-free life, as they did in the glorious Sixties and Seventies of their youths. [. . .]
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. may get on the ballot in all fifty states. He may end up playing spoiler in some of them, perhaps by siphoning progressive votes from Joe Biden (or whomever the Democrats nominate) or even by appealing to the MAGA crowd should Donald Trump fizzle out this time around and lose the nomination to a younger candidate more palatable to independents. By the same token, RFK Jr’s support may turn out to be a mile deep but only an inch wide, and he could find himself denied a ballot spot in a majority of states in which he could do real damage. But this does truly seem like the last gasp of Baby Boomers, whom I don’t believe are going to go down in history as particularly wise or virtuous leaders. Sic transit gloria Woodstockorum, I suppose.