|I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve always been mildly obsessed with the Kennedys. I hail, in part, from Boston Irish stock, and I certainly spent a number of my formative professional years at Vanity Fair, which was unabashedly transfixed by not only the top-flight Kennedys—Jack & Jackie, Joe, Bobby & Ethel, etcetera—but also the veritable larger cinematic universe: Rose, Theodore White, Arthur Schlesinger, Jack Valenti, Kenneth O’Donnell, Onassis, the girlfriends, and so on, to say nothing of later generations. In many ways, of course, they were the culture’s first reality TV family—classy on the outside, far more complex on the inside—and a precursor to the Bushes, the Clintons, the Kardashians, the Trumps, and whatever comes next.
The latest iteration of the Kennedy saga centers around R.F.K. Jr., the lawyer and environmentalist and Cheryl Hines plus-one, who has refashioned himself as a surprisingly successful drive-by presidential candidate. Some two decades ago, Kennedy was a passionate coverboy for the burgeoning green movement. (I’m not being hyperbolic: at VF, we proudly put him on the cover of a special environmental issue, beside Julia Roberts.) More recently, he’s elevated his profile through more fringe social pathways—first as an avowed anti-vaxxer and, secondly, as an anti-establishment-friendly crypto zealot, who uses “defi” as a code for a style of righteous libertarianism. I don’t besmirch Kennedy for expressing his views—that, after all, is the hallmark of a free and just society—but I do wonder on occasion whether he simply wants to achieve the sort of fame that would justify his lineage.
In R.F.K. Jr. & the Latest Kennedy Tragedy, my partner Baratunde Thurston examines Kennedy’s rise through his twin-hobby horses and asks a simple question: Why would someone who has accomplished so much, and done so much good, risk it all to become a conspiracy-hawking Connor Roy? As Baratunde notes, R.F.K. now appears to be moonlighting as the Trump of Hyannis Port. When he talks about the Russian war in Ukraine, he repeats Putin’s talking points, claiming that the U.S. provoked Russia into war and saying that the Kremlin “acted in good faith” by trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution. Kennedy promises to be a close friend to Israel and the Jewish people, but he often compares Covid mandates to the Holocaust. In doing so, as Baratunde notes, he diminishes the danger of anti-Semitism and encourages its practitioners.
Kenndy’s popularity has benefited, in part, from a recent spate of bad news for Biden, particularly regarding his troubled son, Hunter. In The Biden Witch Hunt Brews, Tina Nguyen expertly captures the mood in Washington as impeachment season gains steam. In Hunter Splatter Analysis, Peter Hamby brilliantly assesses why this scandal may have jumped the shark. After all, R.F.K. isn’t the only conspiracy theorist in our politics. The trend is unfortunately becoming the coin of the realm.
But if you only have time to read one piece, I’d recommend that you turn your attention to Julia Ioffe’s brilliant reportage on the coup-that-wasn’t in Moscow last weekend. In Putin vs. Prigozhin: A Post-Coup Report, Julia artfully explains what the Western media has gotten incorrect about the Wagner affair, how it misjudged Putin’s strength, and fundamentally misread the situation. It’s yet another reminder, as if we needed one, that she’s the culture’s leading journalistic authority on the subject—indeed, on one of the most impactful stories of our time, and precisely what you should expect to read about in Puck.
Have a great long weekend,