Robert F. Kennedy Jr, 69, announced his run for the Democratic nomination for president last month amid a wave of nostalgia about the incredible role the Kennedys have played in American political life.
Right after he announced his decision to run in a two-hour introductory speech, his name began appearing in Democratic primary polls showing him at a shocking 19 percent against President Biden, closer than any Donald Trump rival is to Trump in GOP polls.
No one can definitively rule out a Kennedy running for president, and Biden would ignore Kennedy Junior at his peril. Many will remember longshot Senator Eugene McCarthy back in 1968 who drove President Lyndon Johnson from the race, stunning every political expert in the land.
Kennedy Jr seems from a similar vintage. His issues are the environment and vaccines, and there are plenty of young, idealistic voters who could support such a candidate.
The attraction is obvious, as the Kennedy name is still magic to many older Democrats. He is the son of the beloved Robert F. Kennedy, US Attorney General during his brother John F. Kennedy’s administration as well as a Senator from New York, the man who took over the mantle of the Kennedy family, seeking to ensure “the dream would never die” as his younger brother Teddy guaranteed.
But the dream did die in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where Robert was gunned down in still-mysterious circumstances by a Palestinian assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, in June 1968. Ethel Kennedy, RFK’s wife, was left with 11 children to rear in a chaotic household and it was no surprise that some of the kids, including Bobby Junior, went off the rails.
He had certainly been highly regarded in his early years, spearheading the Riverkeeper initiative which was ahead of its time in conservation efforts.
But his radical shift in recent times was evident in his launch speech: "My mission over the next 18 months of this campaign and over my, 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 on our country, to commoditize our children, our purple mountains majesty, to poison our children and our people with chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs, to strip mine our assets, to hollow out the middle class and keep us in a constant state of war."
Many of the Kennedys have previously denounced his anti-vaccine views and criticized him over his support for the release of Sirhan Sirhan. Most family members oppose his run and many cite his tangled personal life – three marriages and the suicide of his second wife, Mary Kennedy.
Yet there always remains the opportunity for Kennedy to use his new platform to undermine confidence in vaccines. He seems fatally flawed but so did Trump, who has set a new standard for what is acceptable or not.
Still, given so much baggage, it is far from likely he will have an impact. But never rule out the power of the Kennedy name.
*This column first appeared in the May 17 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.