We Must Not Fall For the Bad Faith of RFK, Jr.
I have what you might call an earnestness detector: I can and always have been able to tell when someone is saying what they mean, dealing in unsullied good faith, and when someone is crafting narratives with a foundation of bad faith, arguments they do not mean but must deploy if they are going to win the day.
It’s why I started Bad Faith Times in April 2022. I’ve tortured myself with enough right-wing media to last fifteen lifetimes, from hate radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and (back in the day) Sean Hannity to the increasingly-fascist cable news hosts indoctrinating the nation one nightly segment at a time to online bad-faith dealers like the dearly departed Andrew Breitbart and so-called muckraker Matt Drudge.
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At 18, working for my dad at his used car lot in Prince George’s County, Maryland, I drove around all day – transporting cars across the metro area – and listened to the local right-wing radio station. Alternating between outrage and despondency, harboring dark fantasies along the way, a funny thing happened. I wanted desperately to achieve some common ground with these far-right propagandists, maybe because if I agreed with them, I would agree with my dad – we’d have something in common politically. Driving around five or six hours a day, I felt like a prisoner of the most vile, hate-filled radio hosts in the US, begging for a morsel of bipartisan agreement. And sometimes there would be something I could latch on to, maybe some strain of right-wing isolationism or anti-elitism. But no. I’d come to my senses and understand these monsters were not against foreign intervention nor the elites as a principled stance. Countless hours of right-wing radio showed me the right cares about nothing but power, domination, and the degradation of their myriad enemies.
There would be no common ground, and that was OK. Eventually, I turned off the radio.
I have happily ingested conservatives’ bile and come away with a really shitty super power: The ability to tell when a right winger is saying what they mean.
The next year and a half is going to be chock full of bad faith arguments, and not just from the right. Bad Faith Times readers are going to have to filter everything through the lens of good and bad faith and refuse to fall victim to bad-faith performance artists preying on vulnerable folks desperate for a viable alternative to our failed economic and political system that has and will continue to crumble for as long as it is beholden to the logic of capital, which is not compatible with representative democracy.
This starts with Robert Kennedy, Jr., a living, breathing Trojan horse for far-right politics and a potential patsy for the highly-coordinated and well-oiled international fascist movement. There are enough earnest, well-meaning folks on the left so hungry for an alternative to 900-year-old centrist Joseph Robinette Biden that they would gladly choke down Kennedy’s politics, however flawed. Many on the left, sick and fucking tired of eating what Democrats have fed them for the past forty years, are ready and willing to embrace a figure like Kennedy as a solution to the problem of a party captured by capital that can’t adequately oppose the most dangerous entity on earth, the Republican Party.
That millions of Americans pine for a presidential candidate who promises to destroy the System -- whatever that might mean to you -- is a stunning condemnation to the unresponsiveness of our politics. We’re now in the second decade of American voters wanting to blow up the whole fucking experiment and elites on the left seem not to notice, or care.
But sisters and brothers, please listen to me when I say RFK, Jr. is not the answer to your prayers.
Yes, Politics Suck. So What.
Did I enjoy voting for Joe Biden in 2020? Did I get the warm and fuzzies in my belly as I cast a vote for a guy whose politics and opportunism have disgusted me since before I could grow facial hair? No and no. I hated voting for Biden. It churned my stomach. I was disgusted with myself. But practically, I had no choice.
Like a lot of millennials, my politics was almost entirely shaped by the Iraq War, a criminal act with few equals that should have led to the imprisonment of the entire George W. Bush administration. Today red-pilled weirdos online like to whine about everything as a psychological operation (a psy-op for short) – from masks and vaccines during the horrors of COVID to mass shooters with nazi tattoos, everything is a carefully-planned psy-op for the red pilled among us. But the Iraq war was actually a psy-op: The American populace was slowly lulled into a fierce determination to launch a ground war with a country that had nothing to do with the traumas of 9/11. Our loved ones became zombies repeating the administration's lies and begging for war. In the months ahead of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, no one questioned the premise of a war that would end the lives of a million Iraqis and nearly 10,000 American troops.
The worst part – the part that still makes me sweat with anger when I fixate on it – is that lack of congressional opposition to the Bush administration’s torrent of lies that made war seem inevitable. It wasn’t, of course. If Democrats like John Kerry, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton – along with others afraid to lose re-election or damage their 2004 or 2008 presidential bids – had stepped in and opposed a congressional war resolution, the invasion would have been stopped (a vomit-inducing 21 Senate Democrats joined Republicans in giving the green light for mass bloodshed in Iraq). It was sickening to watch these cowardly, nihilistic Democrats act and sound exactly like their Republican colleagues who wanted to drop bombs on Iraqi cities because Saudis flew planes into the World Trade Center two years earlier. I’m sure I’m not the only millennial who felt politically abandoned in a way that drove me much further left.
I swore to myself that I would never, under any circumstances, vote for any Democrat who approved the Iraq War resolution. I don’t think I was alone in this as my only litmus test for which Democratic politicians to support in the coming years. Well, those best-laid plans were torched about eighteen months later when I begrudgingly cast a vote for Kerry in his general election bid against Bush. Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders then served as my alternative to Clinton in 2008 and 2016. In 2020, after the Democratic Party and its committed centrists dispatched Sanders with machine-like efficiency, I again had no choice. I would have to support someone who approved the Iraq War – for the third time. I voted for Biden, who had single handedly shoehorned Clarence Thomas onto the Supreme Court in place of the bad-faith detecting Thurgood Marshall, sought repeatedly to destroy the nation’s withered social safety net, opposed LGBTQ rights at every turn, waffled on abortion rights, bragged about being the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, and voted time and again to continue America’s imperialistic misadventures.
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This might be where the RFK-curious liberal or leftist stands up and says no, you idiot, you soft-skulled moron, you didn’t have to vote for Biden. You could have cast a protest vote for Sanders or supported Marianne Williamson. You could have written in the names of FDR or Joseph Stalin. You could have self immolated outside your polling place. You could have simply not voted. You are the problem, they might howl. You are why we will never have nice things in this country. As long as someone like Biden – who has been wrong on every issue for his entire political career – can become president, the status quo will never be vanquished and our utopian future cannot be ushered in!
And look, maybe the RFK-curious voter is right. Maybe the Democrats will continue nominating the worst, squishiest, least-principled people to run for president because of folks like me, who donated a not-inconsiderable amount of money to Bernie and worked phone banks for his presidential campaigns and tried like hell to turn my friends and family into Bernie bros. But I had never considered throwing away my vote in 2020, as Donald fucking Trump sought re-election, primed to wield executive power while unencumbered by the demands of another election (assuming he would leave the White House after two terms). With white supremacists serving in key Cabinet positions and the administration working hand in hand with fascist organizations across the country, I could not be so selfish as to waste my vote in an Election Day temper tantrum. And make no mistake: You are stomping your feet and being a big fucking baby when you vote third party in a political system dominated by two parties.
At 20, I may have thought differently. At 39, I’m begging you to grow the fuck up and embrace the zero-sum nature of our electoral system. Pull up your big-kid pants. You can support progressive candidates when the stakes are slightly lower than existential.
Democrats have unfortunately discovered a winning formula in the waning days of our democratic republic: Republicans – even the run-of-the-mill variety – have become so fucking unhinged and terrifying that Democrats only need to exist to get elected. The party spent hundreds of millions during the 2022 election cycle to nominate the most deranged, dangerous Republican gubernatorial candidates to square off against (mostly) uninspiring Democrats. Democratic candidates don’t have to be good; they just have to have a pulse. The worst thing about this strategy: It worked beautifully. Radical GOP gubernatorial candidates were wiped off the map in the midterms. That won’t change in 2024. Democrats will bank on us being petrified of another Trump term. The thing is, I am. And maybe you are too. We have reason to be.
Whatever glorious socialist future I want for me and my children – free of the racist and classist Electoral College, free of fascist domination of the Supreme Court – it will have to wait. In 2020, I had to support a right-wing Democrat as a purely practical matter in what could have been a turning point election in the worst possible way. I will do the same in 2024. So it goes.
Some Alternatives Are Quite Bad
The first thing you should know about Robert Kennedy, Jr. is that he is an ally of Donald Trump and the country’s ascendant fascist movement.
They have become cozy bedfellows thanks to their support of Russia in its war against Ukraine and their opposition to all vaccinations, not just the COVID-19 jab. RFK has and will continue to draw support from some of the most vile corners of American politics – folks who see Kyle Rittenhouse and (alleged) F-Train killer Daniel Penny as national heroes – for as long as he feigns opposition to Big Pharma by spreading dangerous misinformation about vaccinations and pretending not to root for Vladimir Putin while he very much roots for Vladimir Putin. Kennedy, in short, is a lib owner.
Trump in the early days of his administration asked Kennedy to head a so-called vaccine safety commission, a tremendous turn of bad-faith politics that would add an official government veneer to the utter lunacy of vaccination opposition. This commission, which never came to fruition because Big Daddy’s addled brain can’t focus on one thing for more than nine seconds, would have pushed the lie that childhood vaccinations cause autism further into the American mainstream. Kennedy would have been in prime position to blast his many lies about the COVID vaccine from his Trump-granted government perch in 2020 and 2021, as thousands of Americans succumbed to the virus every day for months and months.
RFK as the nation’s authority in vaccinations would have led to even more deaths (mostly among Republicans) than the anti-vaccination movement intentionally caused in the first couple years of the pandemic. Remember that the key to bad-faith politics is the creation of a reality that requires a certain political prescription and you’ll realize how catastrophic Kennedy would have been as a member of the Trump administration. The broken-brained and deeply dishonest RFK, Jr. would have helped craft a reality in which the COVID vaccine would lead to mass death, and therefore should not have been made publicly available. Who knows, maybe he would have promoted the fake and unintentionally funny online videos of people shaking uncontrollably after supposedly taking the COVID shot.
RFK, Jr. would have become a hero of the right wing. In our fragmented 21st century politics, it would have made some sordid sense that conservatives would rally around a Kennedy after wishing death upon the Kennedy family for three generations.
Actual vaccine experts – whose education did not come from some bearded dude in his mother’s basement broadcasting on YouTube – were understandably rattled by Kennedy’s potential ascent to an important health-care role in Trump’s administration.
“That’s very frightening; it’s difficult to imagine anyone less qualified to serve on a commission for vaccine science,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, a nonprofit that works to control, treat and eliminate vaccine-preventable and neglected tropical diseases. … Our nation’s public health will suffer if this nascent neo-antivaxxer movement is not stopped immediately.”
If you can somehow get past Kennedy’s vaccine disinformation campaign, consider his recent whining about January 6 insurrectionists being arrested for trying to, you know, overthrow the federal government because their Big Boy lost to Biden. It’s not hard to see to whom Kennedy is appealing here.
“There are so many Americans who are worried about election integrity, and who feel like the system is rigged against them,” RFK, Jr. said in a recent interview, during which he soft soaped his radical views on a range of topics. “There were riots at Capitol Hill because of that conviction.”
If you, like the large-brained Aaron Rodgers, are among the 20 percent of Democrats who bewilderingly back RFK, Jr. – a far-right ghoul who operates exclusively in bad faith – for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination, consider the man believes Anthony Fauci, a lifelong apolitical government technocrat, is the head of an international plot to overthrow western democracy. Consider RFK, Jr. believes vaccine requirements are worse than anything the Nazis did. Consider his family fucking hates him. Most importantly, you can’t nail down Kennedy on the issues because he does not say what he means. Such is the magic of bad faith.
The calls for Biden to debate Kennedy and Williamson and whoever else wants the Democratic nomination so they can lose to Trump are so disingenuous, they’re hard to take seriously. If this is baby’s first election, the incumbent president does not do the primary thing. That’s not how this works, even when we’re not thrilled about the incumbent. There's nothing nefarious about the sitting president refusing to debate.
I know you’d rather swallow a fistful of thumbtacks than to cast (another?) vote for Biden in 2024. Our politicians are way too fucking old, and Biden is older than nearly all of them. If there were a serious alternative to Biden, someone willing to challenge him in good faith on meaningful issues, I would not have written this. In fact, I would be on board.
The time to demand Democrats take action against the vast far-right machine taking over politics in these late stages of capitalism is not when they’re out of power, but when they have power. Holding massive protests and rallies against Trump and his cronies in 2017 was natural. We were outraged, we wanted to register our opposition to what was coming, and we wanted the world to see we weren’t all monsters, that many of us vehemently opposed Trump's political agenda from the hottest circle of hell. That we do not mobilize when Democrats stumble into power is a lost opportunity. That’s the time to apply pressure and demand that the not-as-bad guys make the necessary changes to cut off the political oxygen to the American fascist movement.
Franklin Roosevelt once asked his supporters, union members and those who opposed segregation specifically, to make him do the right thing while in office. Only by pointing to enormous groups of people demanding a government response to crisis could he convince members of Congress to back his massive project of American renewal. Politicians occasionally respond to public fury. It’s why the left should have filled Washington, D.C. with protests in the first days of the Biden administration. Instead, exhausted and relieved, we went about our lives, free from the mind-altering chaos of the Trump years.
The Democratic Party needs to be pushed further left, especially on economics, where they’re inexplicably losing out to Republicans on populist messaging. Probably I’m in agreement with RFK. Jr. backers on this point. Unfortunately for the RFK apologists, there is nothing in his past that says he is the needed alternative to Biden. I regret to inform you that Kennedy is far worse than Biden – a difficult feat, to be sure.
Seek your alternative elsewhere before you give Trump a second term.
Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.