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  • William Hall

RFK Jr. - No one's perfect, but some can get pretty damn close

Everyone expected a Trump v. Biden rematch in this year’s US Presidential Election. Many expected it would be a close fight. Few, however, expected the strongest independent candidate the US has seen in decades to take the form of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Now consistently polling above 15% in nationwide polls (and some in the high 20s) and being the most favourable candidate for youth voters (47% of under 40s would not vote for Biden or Trump in some polls) RFK Jr has a real chance of deciding this year’s election. But who is he, and why do so many Americans like him?

Perhaps it is because RFK is the first presidential candidate since Al Gore to actually care about the environment – and I mean truly care, not just pander to the liberal electorate. As with Trump in 2016, RFK is a political outsider. However, there the similarity ends as whilst Trump spent his career inflating his wealth and hanging out with Stormy Daniels, RFK spent his career working with various environmental advocacy groups and as an environmental lawyer for oppressed communities. In particular, RFK Jr has been actively involved in defending the rights of vulnerable indigenous and impoverished communities from the interests of big corporations – including the US military-industrial complex. Now, with a growing youth environmental movement, RFK’s wish that “there [was] a law you could punish them [climate deniers] under” likely echoes the belief of a significant portion of the US electorate. 

It is not just RFK’s admirable commitment to the environment and work for indigenous and impoverished groups that contributes to his growing support base. RFK has also gone to great lengths to create an idealistic yet broad church political campaign. For those on the left, RFK has spoken strongly and often about the failings of the US economy, labelling it as “cushy socialism for the rich” and “brutal, merciless capitalism for the poor”. To deal with this he supports federal prosecution for union-busters and large corporations, as well as support for small businesses. He is also strongly supportive of radical measures to tackle the US healthcare crisis, such as a single-payer program and ending the dominance of ‘BigPharma’. For those on the right, RFK has tapped into the Trumpian populist hate for ‘corruption in Washington’ and promises to challenge the influence of vested interests over the White House. However, unlike Trump, RFK’s career of battling big corporations gives hope that he is sincere in these wishes rather than just playing on the concerns of America’s lower classes.

Yet, RFK’s best policies are not those that favour the left or right but those that show the kind of moderate compromise needed to heal a nation so divided. For instance, on the polarising issues of abortion, gun control, immigration, and LGBTQ rights RFK’s campaign seems to have found a middle ground. On abortion, RFK describes himself as pro-choice yet supportive of a national ban (with exceptions) after 21 weeks. On gun control, RFK is supportive of an assault weapons ban, but insists he is pro-gun and believes a potential solution to the issue of increasing gun violence is to take mental health more seriously. On immigration, RFK is in tune with nearly 60% of Americans when he believes the US-Mexican Border needs far stronger law enforcement. However, he opposes the separation of families common at border crossings and supports legal migration more strongly than his isolationist counterpart in the Republican party. Lastly, on LGBTQ rights RFK has a proven track record of supporting gay marriage and respect for all sexual orientations, but opposes transgender women competing in women’s sports and other elements of the trans debate. 

"RFK has the potential to be a President for all."

What all the above proves is that RFK is not a Democrat or a Republican – he is not left nor right. RFK has the potential to be a President for all. One who has based his campaign on the ability to be moderate and to seek compromise where others have entrenched themselves on one side or the other. 

Unfortunately, no one is perfect. RFK, as with all presidential candidates, has his fair share of demons – yet one stands out. With Trump, it is his blatant disregard for the law and democracy, with Biden, it is his age and mental cognition, and for RFK, it is his misguided views on vaccination. Alongside his consistency in the environmental movement, for LGBTQ rights, and the defence of marginalised communities, RFK has been equally consistent in his scepticism of the effectiveness of vaccination. A former chair of the vaccine-sceptic Children's Health Defence organisation, Kennedy describes himself as “not anti-vax” yet has expressed support for the link between vaccines and autism, and the belief that no vaccine is totally safe for children. This belief is dangerous, and should he become President could very easily turn into a national health crisis as federal laws and programs for child vaccination get defunded or abolished altogether. 

However, the demons of the other two candidates are far more significant. It is telling that whenever you hear criticism of Trump the fact that he too is sceptical of vaccines rarely comes up. This is for good reason. Because a second Trump term would have infinitely worse ramifications for the US than an RFK presidency. In Biden’s case, Special Counsel Robert Hur was right. It is hard even for me to criticise the President’s age and mental acuity without feeling bad for someone who reminds me of one of my grandfathers – kind, with his heart in the right place, but slowing down. With the world becoming more dangerous, it is hard to believe that a man who would be 85 by the end of his second term would be more on the ball than a very active 74-year-old.

RFK Jr is not perfect. Yet based on domestic policy alone, I believe he would be a far better president for America than Trump and should be seen as a far more serious challenger to Biden. Practically, there is little chance he can win the election. The system is simply too stacked against him. What he can do is change policy, as UKIP did in the early 2010s to the Conservative Party or Momentum did to Labour. If the Democratic Party can learn from his environmentalism, his support of the downtrodden, his pragmatism and compromise on polarising issues, and most of all his crusade against big corporations, then they could stand a better chance of beating Trump – the worst of all evils.

Image: Wikimedia Commons



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