Hey, progressives: Don't follow RFK Jr. down the rabbit hole — he's just not that into you

What does Robert F. Kennedy Jr. really stand for? If he runs as a third-party spoiler, the answer is clear

Published October 4, 2023 5:30AM (EDT)

Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at a Hispanic Heritage Month event at Wilshire Ebell Theatre on September 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at a Hispanic Heritage Month event at Wilshire Ebell Theatre on September 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

If Robert F. Kennedy Jr. follows through on his apparent plans to run for president in the fall 2024 general election, that will make it all the more important for progressives to have a clear understanding of who Kennedy is and what he really stands for.

In advance of announcing that he'll run as an independent, according to Mediaite, the Kennedy campaign will deploy "attack ads" against the Democratic National Committee for preventing an open primary process. The DNC's shenanigans deserve to be condemned, and we have repeatedly done so, including herehere and here.

Kennedy can be forceful in denouncing aspects of U.S. militarism, and at times makes valid points about hawkish foreign policies that shun diplomacy while enriching military contractors. But a closer look at his overall views is needed, lest progressives follow Kennedy into his often inaccurate — and sometimes demagogic — rabbit hole.

Any serious progressive critique of U.S. foreign policy must include a challenge to our country's one-sided position on Israel/Palestine — which leads to other dangerous policies, such as supporting the Saudi dictatorship (and its horrific war in Yemen), while unnecessarily exacerbating tensions with Iran.

Kennedy seems to believe that Washington has not been one-sided enough in support of Israel. He pledged in a mid-July interview: "There's nobody who's running for president right now in either party who will be a better friend to Israel than me as president." Kennedy followed up by saying: "Progressive Democrats have become outspoken opponents of Israel. That's the worst outcome of woke culture."

And he added: "The criticism of Israel is a false narrative. Israel is a shining star on human rights in the Middle East."

If you are a progressive who is leaning toward RFK Jr. but cares about Palestinian rights and Middle East peace, you should watch the recent interview with him conducted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a staunch supporter of the Israeli government. Kennedy questions the "narrative" that Palestinians are an "oppressed" people, applauds the Israeli military for consistently "avoiding civilian casualties," says he doesn't want the Biden administration to make a nuclear agreement with Iran, and agrees with Boteach's characterization of Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., as "anti-Semitic."

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In that July 16 interview, RFK Jr. was evidently trying to do damage control after the discovery of a video from this summer in which he made bizarre comments suggesting that COVID-19 was an "ethnically targeted" bioweapon and that Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people possessed greater immunity to the virus. But Kennedy's extreme support of Israel and his closeness with Boteach predate those comments. In June, he waved Israeli flags side-by-side with Boteach in Manhattan's "Celebrate Israel 75th" parade and declared in a column for Jewish Journal: "I support Israel because I share Israel's values." 

Kennedy's positions on domestic policies — from the climate crisis to economics to his extreme anti-vaccination views — are often at odds with progressive values and positions. In a thorough critique for the Guardian, Naomi Klein exposes Kennedy's faux populism and support from high-tech billionaires. Along with debunking many of Kennedy's claims about vaccines, Klein points out that he has asserted the climate crisis is being overhyped by "totalitarian elements in our society" and says he would leave energy policy to market forces.

Klein also makes clear that RFK Jr. is no economic populist: "On Fox, he would not even come out in favor of a wealth tax; he has brushed off universal public health care as not 'politically realistic'; and I have heard nothing about raising the minimum wage." 

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Kennedy offers no systemic, class-based analysis of what's wrong in U.S. society. Instead, he takes a consistently conspiratorial view. Through his use of social media and other outreach, he's attracted considerable support from the conspiracy-minded right wing. In April, Steve Bannon – the far-right influencer who shaped Donald Trump's 2016 campaign — said that "Bobby Kennedy would be an excellent choice for Trump to consider" as a running mate in 2024. Both Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone said in late July that Kennedy would be a good choice for the next Republican cabinet.

While running for president as a Democrat, RFK Jr. gave friendly interviews to corporate libertarian outlets. That coziness, along with his recent consultation with the chair of the Libertarian Party, has led to speculation that he'll end up as the candidate of the Libertarians, who were on the ballot in almost every state in 2020. (Going it alone without an established third party, Kennedy would be unlikely to qualify for many state ballots, given the undemocratic hurdles.)

It's unclear what RFK Jr.'s strategy is. What is clear is that his campaign could end up helping the neofascist Republicans win in November 2024. Back in 2016, Trump narrowly defeated Hillary Clinton after both major parties nominated unpopular candidates. Eight percent of younger voters — a demographic that leans heavily Democratic in general — voted for either the Libertarian or Green parties, a percentage that was much higher in some swing states.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. offers progressives a mishmash of appealing statements, "free market" corporatism and assorted political toxins. It's not a good deal.

By Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen is co-founder of, a retired journalism professor at Ithaca College and author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” In 1986, he founded the media watch group FAIR.

MORE FROM Jeff Cohen

By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of many books, including "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." His latest book, "War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine," was published in June 2023.

MORE FROM Norman Solomon

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