Bobby or Bust: A New Breed of Young Kennedy Supporters Speaks Out

Bobby or Bust: A New Breed of Young Kennedy Supporters Speaks Out
American Values 2024 | April 4, 2024

By David Talbot, columnist, The Kennedy Beacon

Will the real Robert F. Kennedy Jr. please stand up? Is he simply a marginal candidate or something more serious, more important?

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At least they’ve stopped calling him just a kook… sort of. Now the political establishment – and their corporate media subsidiaries – are frantically calling him a “spoiler.”

But which candidate is Bobby spoiling it for – Trump or Biden?

Last week, Donald Trump himself labeled Kennedy “the most radical Left candidate” in the 2024 presidential election. Trump ended his typically, um, eccentric post on the Truth Social platform by insisting Kennedy is “Crooked Joe Biden’s Political Opponent, not mine,” adding “I love that he is running!”

But wait. Democratic Party whisperer (loud whisperer) James Carville has the opposite opinion. “I actually think Bobby Kennedy might hurt Trump more than he hurts Biden,” he told MSNBC host Ari Melber last week. It’s Jill Stein and Cornel West who keep Carville up at night, fretting that those two independent candidates might peel off enough votes from Biden to allow Trump to reoccupy the White House. (The Ragin’ Cajun should worry instead about how to make the Democratic candidate more appealing to voters, if that’s possible.)

As for Bobby himself, he says his aim is to spoil the election for both Trump and Biden and become our next president. Kennedy actually wants to expand the electorate, which is what, you know, a democracy should do – rather than close the ballot to popular candidates you don’t like.

None of the above – neither Biden nor Trump. If limited to that narrow and well-worn choice, we’d rather stay home on Election Day. That’s the strong sentiment you get from Kennedy supporters when you talk with them. It’s either Bobby, or no one else.

Last Tuesday, I wandered outside and inside the Henry J. Kaiser Center for the Arts in Oakland, California, before and after Kennedy introduced his new running mate, Nicole Shanahan. I asked those standing in line to get into the auditorium, and exiting afterwards, to tell me why they support RFK Jr. and where they get their political information.

The Oakland crowd included different generations, but I was mainly interested in hearing from younger voters. The invisible wave for Kennedy, his campaign hopes, might come in part from young people, who are angry and frustrated by the grim realities that confront them: the narrowing job opportunities, the increasingly remote possibility of owning a home, the forever wars that soak up our taxes. Oh yes, and climate doom, environmental catastrophe, and chronic disease dangle over them like the sword of Damocles. In other words, the American Dream has become a sick joke to a new generation of voters. And they’re not happy about it.

As Axios noted last week, Kennedy “laps the 2024 presidential field” when it comes to social media followers, especially on youth-oriented TikTok. Bobby has 1.1 million TikTok followers, while Biden has only 273,000 and Trump isn’t even on the platform. Kennedy’s popularity among this “key voter demographic” could be felt from young people at Kennedy’s event in Oakland.

Marie Valenzuela, a 27-year-old farmer from the Mendocino, California, area, said she’s concerned about the pesticides and body care products that affect her endocrine system. Kennedy, she said, understands the chemical assaults on our environment and our bodies. “Bobby speaks the truth to farmers and makes me feel hopeful for the future.” She gets her news, Valenzuela added, from X (formerly Twitter).

Ryan Wong, 20, likes what he sees and hears when Bobby appears on podcasts, where Wong gets his news. “He’s real – you can’t be fake when you talk for an hour or longer.”

Shawn Otis, a 28-year-old musician, also listens to podcasts, mentioning Joe Rogan’s show as one of his favorites. He believes that Kennedy “is a good person. He’s what we need.” He added, “It’s not right to have only two parties.”

As I was talking to young people in line at the auditorium, a woman filed by, exclaiming, “I want a candidate who isn’t corrupt!” She identified herself as Joanna Selosse, 39.

Alexis Diaz, a 25-year-old college student, said she heard about Kennedy from friends and the Children’s Health Defense organization, which Kennedy chairs (and from which he is on leave). She supports him “for his work on chronic illness,” adding, “I’m not a fan of two-party politics.”

A few days later, I found one of the most articulate young voices for Bobby some 3,000 miles away. Brian Wells is a 19-year-old student who lives near Albany, New York, and is studying law and philosophy at Gordon College, a small Christian school on the North Shore of Boston. I talked on the phone to Wells, who is a registered Libertarian and usually has voted for Republicans during his brief electoral eligibility.

Wells liked Kennedy as soon as he heard him speak. “I watched his campaign announcement speech online and within the first five minutes he captivated me,” Wells recalled. “He talked about separating corporate power from government – the corruption in Washington. Things that no other politician talks about.”

“He also has a very good track record,” Wells added. “As an environmental lawyer, he cleaned up the Hudson River, which is very important to us because it’s nearby.”

The difference between Kennedy and the two candidates again being offered by the political duopoly is striking, said the college student. None of his friends and fellow students is excited about Biden or Trump.

“Biden is very old, his time is done. People my age don’t expect the economy to improve if Biden or Trump wins,” Wells told me.

He continued: “Trump is very dangerous – he’s authoritarian. He speaks in a way that I’ve never heard before. He’s incoherent sometimes, just rambles. All I hear is anger. By contrast, Kennedy has a very civil manner – he talks about both sides with intelligence and respect. He’s very refreshing.”

Wells gets incensed when he sees how the Democratic Party establishment is trying to banish Kennedy as a “spoiler.”

“I think it is evident that [the] leading individuals in the DNC are attempting to keep the status quo in the party and are trying to prevent significant change in the party’s power structure, much like the initial opposition to Trump by the Republican Party in 2016,” Wells said. “It seems to be more about power structure than it is about policy – that’s why they’ve been so vicious towards Kennedy. I think these individuals are granting a win to Trump by putting up a weak candidate with a staggeringly low approval rating. I have yet to meet a Democrat that supports President Biden because they think he is doing a great job. By shutting out Kennedy, it seems to me that Democrats have almost guaranteed a loss to Trump.”

Wells has not yet done a deep dive on Nicole Shanahan, the 38-year-old lawyer and political activist whom Kennedy picked as a running mate last week. But so far, he likes what he sees.

“I definitely like that she is a successful attorney and that she has an impressive record. I think she is a smart choice that will resonate with a large number of voters, especially the fact that she is younger,” Wells said. “I have yet to listen to her talk extensively, but I feel like her record speaks for itself and I am impressed so far.”

There you have it – the youth (well, some of them) have spoken. Whether the young vote breaks for Kennedy in November, or whether young voters turn out in sufficient numbers to make a difference, remains to be seen.

But young people know that neither Biden nor Trump, with their hidebound ways of looking at the future, can provide the answers to their predicament.

Additional reporting by Cindy Alwan

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