Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

A ‘conspiracy theorist’—and a Kennedy—as a presidential contender

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 26, 2023

“At this point,” writes David Samuels, “the fact that Robert F. Kennedy is the country’s leading ‘conspiracy theorist’ alone qualifies him to be president.”

Samuels makes that curious claim in a long article for Tablet, which is accompanied by a much longer interview with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who last week declared himself a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. There is probably very little overlap between the readership of Tablet, “an online outlet about Jewish life and identity,” and that of the Catholic Culture site. Yet there may be an interesting convergence of ideas at work here.

Before I go any further, a few disclaimers:

  • Regular readers of Catholic Culture will probably be appalled by some of the ideas expressed in the Tablet article, and by the language that both Samuels and Kennedy use to express them.
  • RFK Jr. comes with the same flaws that have characterized the Kennedy political dynasty: a checkered personal history and an indifference (at best) toward the Gospel of Life. Unless he experiences a dramatic conversion, his presidential candidacy will be only a matter of passing interest—certainly not a cause worth embracing—for serious Catholic voters.

Still the Tablet portrait does provide a glimpse of how a dramatic conversion could be possible, when someone with impeccable liberal credentials crosses a line, and finds that—although he is still motivated by the same principles that he has always professed—his views are now anathema to his old comrades-in-arms.

Previous presidential campaigns by members of the Kennedy clan drew early and enthusiastic support from liberal donors and pundits. But the announcement by RFK Jr. prompted disdain from the activists who were once his allies, and even members of his own family. Reporters for the mainstream media, taking their cues from the keepers of fashionable opinion, dismissed him as—yes—a conspiracy theorist. The Tablet’s Samuels, who remains a loyal friend, makes the observation:

It doesn’t take an alarmist to recognize how fast and far the term “conspiracy theory” has morphed from the way it was generally used even a decade ago.

The primary “conspiracy theory” that Kennedy advances today is the claim that the response to the Covid epidemic was unnecessary and destructive. The draconian lockdown was particularly hard on the working classes, he notes, while wealthy individuals and (especially) corporations managed to thrive, with only minor inconveniences. Vaccines did not provide the protection that they promised, and evidence of their failure—and their negative side-effects—was covered up by a powerful coalition of government, media, and corporate leaders.

In other word, Kennedy charges that the rich and powerful exploited the poor and vulnerable: a charge that should quicken the pulse of any old-school liberal. But today those charges are anathema. Why? Because they are “conspiracy theories?” There is solid evidence to back up each of the counts in that indictment.

But to be fair, Kennedy was tarred as a conspiracy theorist before the Covid emergency. He went rogue back in 2005, when he wrote an article in Rolling Stone making the claim that other vaccines were unsafe. He thus became known as an “anti-vaxxer,” and was consigned to the lunatic fringe.

Bear in mind, now, that before he wrote that Rolling Stone piece, blasting the pharmaceutical companies, Kennedy had spent years lodging similar charges against other big businesses. Samuels makes the point in his Tablet profile:

At its root, the case Kennedy made in his article was no more or less plausible and empirically grounded than the cases that he and dozens of other environmental advocates had been making for decades against large chemical companies for spewing toxins into America’s air, water, and soil, and then lying about it.

When environmentalists charge that petrochemical companies promote global warming, or nutritionists say that food additives cause cancer, or auto-safety experts point to inadequate safety testing, they are lauded as whistle-blowers and truth-tellers and brave tribunes of the masses. But an attack on the pharmaceutical industry, based on comparable evidence, made RFK Jr. a pariah. Why?

Readers can decide for themselves (if they can dig out the objective evidence, with no help from the gatekeepers of the mainstream media) whether Kennedy was right about vaccines in general and the Covid vaccine in particular. What is beyond dispute is that once he touched that third rail, he lost his standing with the liberal media. And once he found himself excluded from news coverage, he began to notice how many other people are also excluded; he saw how the mainstream media form public opinion, not only through biased coverage of stories, but also—more importantly—by refusing to give some stories any coverage. So it is that this week the erstwhile liberal, Kennedy, has expressed his sympathy for the conservative commentator, Tucker Carlson, who has been deprived of his media platform. And sure enough, Carlson too is charged with promoting “conspiracy theories.”

Dismiss Kennedy and Carlson if you like. But please notice how quick the media establishment is to label an unwelcome argument as a conspiracy theory—or, better yet, to suppress that argument and any evidence that supports it. Fashionable opinion is a stern and unforgiving censor.

The rise of the internet should, in theory, have made it easier to break through a media blackout, to dig out facts and to voice opinions that powerful interests would prefer to suppress. The fact that the giants of social media have teamed up with government and corporate executives to weed out “disinformation” and to “deplatform” renegades—and steadily to expand the categories that call for that treatment—has frightening implications for our democracy.

This Kennedy presidential campaign is going nowhere—certainly not to the White House. But it will be interesting to watch—if the lords of the mainstream media and the censors of the social media allow us to watch it.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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