Had you blindfolded me yesterday morning, led me to the front lawn of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, removed my blinder and asked me to guess where we were, I would have said, “A James Taylor benefit concert for NPR.”
In the crowd on this sunny fall day was a heavy contingent of the boomer delegation, of various stripes and checks. There were even some traditional tweed, and, with blazers out in full force, on both men and women, paired mostly with denim — though late-season red chinos and season-rushing corduroys were on display, too — and invariably some statement eyewear, leather dress shoes, and baseball caps keeping flowy silver hair tamed and sun-spotted skin safe. It was plain from their collective style that this group was at least self-aware. Their well-thought-out attire was meant to send a message: they are (average age sixty-seven and a half) intentional. Deliberate. Outside thinkers. Borderline intellectuals… but still also down to hang as one of the gang! Sure, their designer jeans cost more than the average American’s monthly car payment, but they’re still jeans! Blue-collar workwear! And yes, Vassar College costs $63,000 a year, but the fact that the Brewer field hockey ball cap is faded offsets that.
The well-groomed crew was assembled to hear Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s “major announcement”: that he’s running for president as an Independent candidate. People there, for the most part, were highly — almost disturbingly — pleasant. I was offered a bottle of water at the event’s entrance by a woman who seemed inordinately concerned about my hydration. Social-Securitans smiled blithely at nothing while one of their own performed easy-listening originals in the style of Springsteen and a few free-spirit types danced gently in the grass. If I squinted hard enough to blur the lines on their faces, I could see us all back at Woodstock — or at least watching the festival together on our Moon Tubes.
Sure enough, when the speakers usurped the Springsteen impersonator, “Make Love, Not War” was essentially the theme of the event. In a series of DEI round-robin, a forty-something hipster spoke about being “for cool art, living art, creation!” and challenged people, “Vote for Bobby? NO! Listen to Bobby!” He told us we were part of “an acceptance movement, not a resistance” and called us to participate in the “most beautiful ways possible.”
A “visionary artist” named Amanda Sage served up a bigger word salad than Kamala Harris could ever hope to toss together; it concluded with something about “linking your visions so that it will come true.” I was distracted by an interview going on behind me with a woman cooing over “Bobby’s” virtues: Bobby cares about “people and not fighting,” she said with passion. He also has “a vision for kindness and the health of our planet and… animals!”
I took a turn at surveying the Stuff White People Like convention and first spoke to a couple from Boston. “Why do you two support RFK?” “What do we support about him? Honey, you go first.” The wife, an immigrant from the Philippines, said she liked his foreign policy, and the husband backed her up by asserting RFK is willing to “listen to his adversary.”
Another wife, who drove down from the easternmost point of Maine, said she appreciated RFK’s personality, his “tenacity” and “integrity” — while her husband nodded in agreement.
A younger pair, from New Jersey, stuttered and shifted uneasily when I asked what they liked about RFK. “Policy-wise,” I clarified, when they seemed taken aback. Seeming to pull the only policy-related fact they knew out of the air, one of them muttered quickly, “the fact that he actually went to the border. That says it all right there. Thank you.” (with “Please go away now and stop putting us on the spot” implied.)
Meanwhile, a self-identified “young American” voter with bleached hair had taken the stage to attest that his demographic was “fed-up.” A member of the Veterans for Kennedy coalition followed him, and next a rabbi. There was a moment of silence for Israel, and cheers when the rabbi declared that denying RFK Secret Service protection was an “American abomination.” The rabbi referenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and RFK’s aim of transforming “hate into love” and “division into tolerance” to bring about “American oneness.” More cheers.
When a Native American tribal leader took to the stage, a wide-eyed bystander remarked, “Wow, a lot of clout!” while the One Nation member addressed us in Lakota and awe-struck aging hippies illiterates waved peace signs in the air.
Though a bird has a left wing and a right wing, the tribal leader declared, they still belong to the same bird. A roar of cheers erupted, and it was concluded that it’s a good idea to “make this country better.”
Cheryl Hines, Bobby’s third and current wife, was the final warm-up act. She reminded attendees how her husband (and his law firm) had stood up to Monsanto and won justice for the little guy — DeWayne Johnson, who was awarded $289 million in damages from the Roundup parent company after he developed cancer.
The rabble welcomed Bobby to the stage enthusiastically with cheers of “R-F-K, all the way!” and were treated to repetitious of platitudes and grab-bag feel-good-isms (read the full speech here) that resulted in a (mostly legitimate) bitchfest veiled in a vague utopian wish list no one could disagree with.
The elites are too entrenched.
The media getting us to hate each other is a scam.
We should have a clean environment and safe schools and communities for our children.
We should take care of our veterans, seek peace and end pointless war.
Teachers should earn decent salaries.
Housing should be affordable.
Corporations should pay their “fair share.”
It’s time to declare our independence not just from the Democratic Party (which RFK Jr. said was “very painful” for him to do), but from everything — Big Tech and Big Pharma and Big Ag and government contractors — which are too big and too corrupt.
We should be able to disagree, yet still respect each other.
Bobby’s supporters, according to him, anyway, include people from the left and the right; the vaccinated and the unvaccinated; environmentalists and climate change skeptics.
From what I observed Bobby’s supporters largely consist of people from the left who realized the radical progressive agenda has gone so far that it’s actually started to tarnish their ivory towers. “Humanitarian” border policies and soft-on-crime procedures, for instance, have left their beloved cities unsafe, riddled with drugs and unsanitary homeless encampments. They want to pivot, but need to save face. Joe Biden is no longer an option, and rather than support a Republican and appear intolerant, by supporting Kennedy, they can instead look enlightened. During his speech, RFK Jr. tidily justified his right turn on the southern border on having visited the Arizona border and listening to “people who weren’t on either side.”
People are tired of fighting, tired of the “surveillance state quashing debate,” tired of low wages. They’re tired of living paycheck to paycheck, of “the corporate party system.” RFK Jr. said these things over and over in dozens of ways, declaring his popularity among both sides of the aisle and promising hope and unity. Rather than ask people, “what side are you?” RFK wants to know, “what do you care about?”
The theme of the Kennedy announcement event was that Americans are tired of the name-calling and venom; they want to declare their independence from the status quo in favor of “something new.”
This concept earned a lot of cheers from the starry-eyed boomers — but one thing missing, other than promising to listen to the people and proclaiming he wasn’t controlled by any of the “Bigs,” Bobby didn’t say how he was planning to unify the polarized country. His supporters were very much not living paycheck to paycheck — and when he proclaimed people can be pro-life and not be considered “women-hating zealots,” the applause was noticeably quieted.
Someone near the front of the crowd held up a sign that said it all: “I want Camelot.” RFK Jr. supporters don’t appear to want anything new. They want to be seen as aware, thoughtful and superior, while continuing to live out a comfortable, consequences-free life, as they did in the glorious Sixties and Seventies of their youths. They’re nostalgic for a time when peace and love made all the world’s problems go away. RFK Jr. is the candidate they can finally support without really supporting anything at all. They want a candidate who is a reflection of them, of their cleverness and vague positivism, even if the substance is almost completely lacking.
I want peace and love, too. But unlike the aged nymphs naively swaying in the grass to acoustic social-commentary ballads, I was aware of the SWAT team on the roof overlooking us and the men in black suits vigilantly guarding the event with guns.