RFK Jr. Has Lost His Way

RFK Jr. Has Lost His Way

A Super Bowl ad that defiled his assassinated uncle’s memory was paid for by a super PAC funded by one of Donald Trump’s largest donors.


It was ghoulish.

A super PAC supporting Robert F. Kennedy Jr. ran a 30-second Super Bowl ad designed, as most are, to go viral. It did, but not necessarily in a good way. Against a backdrop of campaign posters plus music taken directly from a 1960 ad for his assassinated uncle, President John F. Kennedy, it pitched the guy who’s running for president as an anti-science, anti-vaxxer “independent,” and repudiating almost all of his Democratic family’s traditions, as instead their inheritor.

RFK Jr.’s extended family had already repudiated his campaign. Predictably, they howled at the desecration of their uncle.

Bobby Shriver, son of JFK’s sister Eunice, objected to the whole ad, as well as the inclusion of a campaign shot of his late mother.

“My cousin’s Super Bowl ad used our uncle’s faces—and my Mother’s,” Shriver wrote. “She would be appalled by his deadly health care views. Respect for science, vaccines, & health care equity were in her DNA.” Siblings Maria and Mark Shriver cosigned their brother’s post.

Monday morning RFK Jr. apologized, sort of, on Xitter. “I’m so sorry if the Super Bowl advertisement caused anyone in my family pain. The ad was created and aired by the American Values Super PAC without any involvement or approval from my campaign…. I love you all. God bless you.”

But as many, many people have pointed out, the ad remains his pinned Xitter post. Also, it’s that classic non-apology: “if what I did caused anybody pain.” Bobby actually doesn’t give a Xit.

The ad cost $7 million, and the super PAC that created it is funded by one of Donald Trump’s largest donors, Tim Mellon, which has fed many theories that Kennedy is being propped up by Trump supporters, including major admirer Steve Bannon. Although to be honest, polls show the Trumpy self-promoting Kennedy taking votes from Trump, too. But a $7 million Super Bowl ad casting the anti-Democrat as representing the legacy of an iconic Democrat shows that he and his backers also mean to take votes from President Joe Biden.

“It is fitting that the first national ad promoting Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s candidacy was bought and paid for by Donald Trump’s largest donor this cycle,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Alex Floyd said in a statement. The DNC has already accused the PAC of illegally coordinating with Kennedy’s campaign.

If you watch the original JFK ad, here, you might be as horrified as the Kennedy family. The ad is not “based on” his uncle’s; it borrows everything, posting RFK Jr.’s face over photos and posters of JFK—but concluding with “vote Independent.” If you have any memory of our late 35th president, it’s painful to watch. What will he or his supporters do next? Repurpose Harry Belafonte’s famous endorsement of his uncle? Paste his face over JFK’s, as he sits next to Belafonte asking for Black votes?

It is political defilement and derangement. Kennedy can pretend to disavow it all he wants, but there is no doubt that he approves of the ad, and as long as it sits atop his Xitter feed, and he continues to repost others’ compliments about it, it is his ad.

I’ve written before that he is a serial liar—he lied to me—but also about how damaged he must be by his multiple childhood traumas. Significantly, he does not try to appropriate the imagery of the 1968 presidential campaign of his own father, Robert F. Kennedy Sr., also assassinated. Maybe some things are too painful or too sacred to defile, even for the opportunistic shapeshifter. Don’t believe his apologies.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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