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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Me and Bobby the K

An inner dialogue on the Democratic underdog.

Phoenix,,Arizona,–,May,18,,2019:,Robert,F,Kennedy,Jr.
(In The Light Photography/Shutterstock)

Truman Capote, who perhaps was not the best judge of such things, wrote that talking to oneself is “a habit of sane persons.” Despite the utter meaninglessness of individual votes cast in presidential elections, I found my two selves engaged in barroom badinage upon the surprise entry into the Democratic presidential race of an antiwar, pro-free speech, corporate-skeptical candidate.

“Hey Celine Dion, why the long face?”

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“I’m afraid my streak of three consecutive votes cast for women for president of the United States—Jill Stein in 2016, and Tulsi Gabbard and Jo Jorgensen in 2020—is about to hit the wall.”

“What—you’re not on the Marianne Williamson train?”

“Eh, no. I’m inclined toward Bobby Kennedy Jr.”

“But—he’s a Kennedy!”

“The first vote I ever cast was for Ted Kennedy in his 1980 primary challenge to President Carter.”

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“So what?”

“Consistency in small things is a virtue—and please bite your tongue before you hiss out Emerson’s hobgoblin line. Besides, when I was a callow 23-year-old Senate aide I briefed Senator Kennedy on a byzantine unemployment insurance amendment and he was friendly.”

“I’m sure that’s a great comfort to the Kopechne family. No more paltry anecdotes, please.”

“Life consists of anecdotes. Like Bobby Jr.’s uncle John F. Kennedy donating $100 to the America First Committee with a note reading ‘what you all are doing is vital.’ That act seldom makes the hagiographies. The family’s history is not without episodes of courage and foresight. JFK’s brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, the last pro-life Democrat on a national ticket, supported both America First and the Catholic Worker. An anarchist-pacifist! Ten years later, paterfamilias Joe Kennedy stood with Herbert Hoover and Robert Taft against U.S. involvement in Korea. And since your haughtiness invites trifling anecdotes, Robert F. Kennedy Sr. waved to my Grandpa Baker during a motorcade through Genesee County in his 1964 Senate campaign.”

“You mean Bobby the carpetbagger—whose election paved the way for James Buckley and Hillary Clinton, two other carpetbaggers who occupied that seat?”

“I of course disapprove of carpetbagging…”

“Don’t forget that Bobby booted your pal Gore Vidal from a White House party just for putting his arm on Jackie Kennedy’s shoulder.”

“Regrettably true, but in Whitmanesque fashion, the first Bobby Kennedy contained multitudes. As a Village Voice writer noted, he was ‘the last liberal politician who could communicate with white working class voters.’ Before he was murdered, he was putting together a coalition also including blacks, farmers, and what they used to call Chicanos.”

“Wouldn’t you have voted for the constitutionalist poet Gene McCarthy over RFK in the ’68 Democratic primaries?” 

“Certainly, but we’re talking about the 2024 race and a modern Democratic Party from which the McCarthy-McGovern Upper Midwest accent has been extirpated. Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—who wants to bring the troops home, starve the military-industrial complex, defend dissenters from persecution, and welcome Main Street back into the Democracy—is the only game in duopoly town for anyone who cherishes free speech and hates war and regimentation.”

“Um, aren’t you forgetting the vaccine thing?”

“Don’t worry: the corporate media won’t let us forget that. Our family has been vaxxed in all the usual ways and is none the worse for the wear. A non-imperial president, as I hope RFK Jr. would be, has no say in whether you or I get jabbed.”

“Okay, go ahead. Vote for him. You think he’ll even make the ballot?”

“I imagine the CIA is at this very moment auditioning socially maladjusted drifters for the role of Lone Gunman. No experience necessary!”

“You shouldn’t joke about assassinations.”

“The U.S. government shouldn’t sanction assassinations.”

“Conspiracy theorist!”

“As Michael Corleone said, ‘Who’s being naïve, Kay?’”

“Please. No one’s getting shot. It would be like assassinating Milton Shapp or Phil Crane or some other hopeless also-ran of yesteryear. RFK Jr. will be crushed under the Biden landslide.”

“Maybe. But at the beginning of March 1968, the major opinion polls had LBJ at 70 percent and Gene McCarthy at 20 percent or less. A week and a half later, McCarthy ran almost even with the grotesque Texan in the New Hampshire primary. By the end of March, Johnson had quit the field.”

“Oh, alright. Kennedy it is. But don’t you dare start singing ‘Camelot.’”