Last updated on April 25th, 2023 at 01:00 pm
Robert F Kennedy Jr is often portrayed as some liberal icon, but I just think he’s a science-denying anti-vaccines troglodyte that has little evidence supporting any of his points of view. The only reason some people “think” he’s a liberal is because of his family name.
I write a lot about RFK Jr because he’s one of the most famous anti-vaccine activists out there. And he seems to lack any open-mindedness to vaccines, despite being pro-science on some subjects like climate change. It boggles the mind that he accepts the scientific consensus on climate change, yet rejects the settled science of vaccines. Nothing annoys me more than so-called liberals rejecting or accepting scientific facts based on political expediency rather than evidence. That’s what Republicans do.
And just this past weekend, during an offensive speech to anti-vaccine protestors, he claimed that Anne Frank was better off hiding in a wall in a house in Amsterdam than dealing with vaccine mandates in the USA. By ignoring the fact that Anne Frank was eventually murdered by the Nazis, RFK Jr shows himself to be antisemitic much like his buddy, Del Bigtree.
Liberals and vaccines
I have a long history of fighting for vaccines. I actually got started in it back in the late 1990s when my wife read all the online commentary on the cunning fraud, Andrew Wakefield’s retracted article about the MMR vaccine.
To my biased eyes, at that time, most of the anti-vaccine crowd were what I used to term “crunchy moms.” They were the stereotypical well-educated liberals who bought organic granola bars (hence, crunchy, I think) and thought that their lifestyle preempted any requirement for vaccines. Although I would never consider my wife “crunchy,” she didn’t quite trust medicine as I did.
We argued about getting our first daughter vaccinated, and we eventually did. Both of our daughters are fully vaccinated, even with the full COVID-19 vaccines plus booster.
So, for years I thought that liberals were the more anti-vaxxers, even recently posting something on my Facebook page wondering how these liberal crunchy moms were dealing with the right-wing crazies who have become the leaders in the anti-vaccine movement. I got my head handed to me.
According to a 2014 Pew Research poll, most Americans strongly support mandatory vaccinations. Of course, this is way before the pandemic, but the data kind of confirmed my viewpoint that only the far left and the far right hated vaccines.
If you notice in this analysis of polling on science attitudes developed by Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com, Democrats (represented by the blue dot, of course) support mandatory vaccination by around 75%, close to scientists’ 85%. Republicans and independents support mandatory vaccinations by around 60-65%, which has gotten worse.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the dichotomy between Republicans and Democrats on vaccines even more apparent. In a recent poll of Americans regarding their attitude toward vaccines, 83% of Democrats favored the COVID-19 vaccines whereas only 56% of Republicans did.
Part of my bias that makes me focus on Democrats and liberals who are anti-vaccine is that I just expect more out of progressives and liberals. People like Robert F Kennedy Jr decide he liked the science behind climate change but rejects the science behind vaccines. You don’t get to pick science just because you agree with it, that’s a perfect example of science denial.
I think that up until this damn pandemic, the vaccine question was mostly not a left-right conversation. West Virginia and Mississippi, both of which are not liberal states by any means, had some of the most powerful vaccine mandates. All childhood vaccines recommended by the CDC were a requirement before enrolling in school in those states. It wasn’t until 2015 that the very liberal state of California approved vaccine mandates for school children.
Orac recently wrote an interesting article that concluded that anti-vaccine equals Republicans these days.
Then I saw this article earlier this week in NPR based on a segment from All Things Considered entitled Inside the growing alliance between anti-vaccine activists and pro-Trump Republicans by Geoff Brumfiel. The story itself documents what I’ve been describing for several years now, how increasingly antivaxxers have turned opposition to government mandates into new recruits for the antivaccine movement. As I like to say on Twitter, come for the freedom (or should I say “freedumb”?), stay for the antivax pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. Indeed, in 2015 I noted how antivax arguments disguised as “anti-mandate” appeals to “freedom” and “parental rights” had infiltrated the Republican debates, with an outright antivaxxer like Rand Paul competing with Donald Trump and others to see who could be more in favor of an antivaccine “anti-mandate” version of “freedumb,” as formerly vocal supporters of vaccine mandates remained silent, and by 2018 I was openly arguing that the Republican Party had become the antivaccine party as I noted how my local GOP office had hosted an antivaccine “vaccine choice” roundtable, It was a sentiment I revisit from time to time, including now.
Although there is much that is very good in the story, the overall framing is one that I see all too often (and that annoys me), namely that it’s “unexpected” that the right would ally with antivaxxers. It’s not unexpected. It never was unexpected. But the mainstream media have long labored under this delusion even though it hasn’t been even remotely true for at least several years, if not much more than a decade.
There may still be a handful of truly liberal “crunchy moms” who are anti-vaxxers, but I think most of them have shifted over to being one-issue true believers of libertarian or Republican anti-vaccine beliefs.
Of course, even the aforementioned Andrew Wakefield helped Donald Trump during the 2016 election.
Robert F Kennedy Jr is not liberal about vaccines
Let me count the ways:
- Robert F Kennedy Jr courted Donald Trump, yes that one, by visiting him at Trump Tower in New York, soon after the election, in an attempt to be appointed the “Vaccine Czar” to make sure all vaccines are safe.
- RFK Jr attacks the CDC, one of the most respected public health institutions in the world, because he claims they make boatloads of money off of patents. Nothing could be further from the truth. The right-wing has targeted public health institutions using some of the same arguments that RFK Jr uses.
- The Kennedy family, actual real liberals who wouldn’t be caught within 100 km of Donald Trump, strongly and publicly rebuked RFK Jr for his anti-vaccine viewpoints.
- RFK Jr is wrong about the constitutionality of vaccine mandates.
- RFK Jr is wrong and wrong about HPV vaccines.
- RFK Jr is wrong about New York vaccine mandates.
- RFK Jr was wrong about Dr. Richard Pan, a real liberal Democrat.
- RFK Jr is wrong about Dr. Paul Offit.
- RFK Jr is wrong about vaccine safety.
On just about any point that liberals agree, concerning vaccines, Robert F Kennedy Jr is much closer to the right-wing Republicans than he is to even moderate Democrats.
He even got banned from Instagram, just like his good buddy Donald Trump.
My thoughts on RFK Jr and vaccines
I guess my bias that the anti-vaccine world was made up of liberal crunchy moms has gone the way of civility in politics. It’s dead.
I’m sure some liberal crunchy moms are still anti-vax, but they’ve been pushed or they moved into the background as the anti-vaccine movement has become solidly libertarian or far right-wing. And pseudo-liberals, like Robert F Kennedy Jr, have become the stars of the right as their anti-vaccine rhetoric has been embraced by the crackpots that inhabit the Republican party.
The thing is that these fake liberals are now getting more attention and money from Republicans. They are getting attention from the right while being ignored from the left. RFK Jr is certainly more a star of the right than the left — he gets the audience with them.
Again, back to Orac:
Of course there isn’t a downside for antivax grifters like Del Bigtree! They got a huge new audience, and Republican politicians now listen to them, opening huge new vistas of grift for them to exploit as huge numbers of easy marks treat them like rock stars. In the meantime, such huge swaths of the Republican Party have fallen prey to what one of my favorite journalists Charles Pierce likes to call the prion disease consisting of ever more outrageous conspiracy theories like QAnon, of which antivax conspiracy theories are not even the most bizarre. Thanks to the cravenness of Republican politicians and the susceptibility of the Republican base to conspiracy theories, the antivaccine movement is clearly in ascendance and the Republican Party is the antivaccine party.
Because of his nonsense beliefs about vaccines, Robert F Kennedy Jr is no longer a liberal — he’s nothing more than a science-denying Republican. And I guess I better move away from the myth that there are a lot of crunchy moms in the anti-vaccine movement.
Now he’s running for President
As I wrote recently, Robert F Kennedy Jr is taking his anti-vaccines rhetoric to the political arena where he is running against President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination. Of course, he has a precisely 0.00% chance of winning, and I’m even willing to say he won’t win a single delegate.
Although Kennedy represents some progressive and liberal ideas that are attractive, his overwhelming anti-vaccine stance is just not acceptable because the country has been divided into two groups — pro-vaccine liberals and anti-vaccine conservatives. Sure, there are some anti-vaccine liberals (they used to be the mainstay of the anti-vax movement) and some pro-vaccine conservatives. Unfortunately, vaccines have become politicized and RFK Jr’s party is solidly pro-vaccines.
Moreover, Kennedy has pushed some incredible conspiracy theories like Bill Gates putting nanobots into COVID-19 vaccines. And of course, he wrote a nasty book about Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was basically the voice of calm science and evidence during Donald Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic. Dr. Fauci is a hero of most Americans with a brain, while the right-wing science deniers pushed all kinds of foul claims about Dr. Fauci. I guess Kennedy is your typical right-winger.
I hate to be a cynic, I prefer to be a skeptic, but I have a feeling that this is just a huge grift opportunity. It’s an opportunity to get his name out there to raise money for himself and his anti-vaccine organization, Children’s Health Defense.
But in the end, as I said above, Kennedy is no liberal. And he is no Democrat. Biden will crush him if he even thinks about him at all.
- Wakefield AJ, Murch SH, Anthony A, Linnell J, Casson DM, Malik M, Berelowitz M, Dhillon AP, Thomson MA, Harvey P, Valentine A, Davies SE, Walker-Smith JA. Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet. 1998 Feb 28;351(9103):637-41. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(97)11096-0. Retraction in: Lancet. 2010 Feb 6;375(9713):445. Erratum in: Lancet. 2004 Mar 6;363(9411):750. PMID: 9500320.