RFK Jr. perfectly framed the 2024 election (even for Republicans like me)

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I stumbled across Robert Kennedy Jr.’s “Exemplary Nation” video and for 9 minutes listened spellbound to that delicate voice with its hairline fractures coming in more clearly than I’d ever heard it before.

Perhaps it had been digitally enhanced or sped up, or maybe Kennedy simply threw back a few Red Bulls before taping.

It hardly matters.

He was speaking to me in free verse, delivering a paean to post-war America — the America of my childhood that I still remember with clarity and real fondness.

RFK Jr. recalls America's 'can-do spirit'

“Our productivity, our ingenuity, our ‘can-do’ spirit were the envy of the world,” says Kennedy in the video he released a few weeks ago, timed to accompany the State of the Union.

“We had confidence in our strength, our capacity and the limitless potential of our country,” he says as black-and-white imagery from the space-bound 1960s interplay with lovely landscapes and faces of modern America.

“We made the best music,” Kennedy says. “We made the best movies. We made gold-standard automobiles that everyone in the world wanted. We made blue jeans. We reconstructed Europe. We put men on the moon. We had the world’s best educated, healthiest children.”

Let me stop here and tell you, I’m a life-long Republican who is the son of parents who were both life-long Republicans. Whenever I’ve scanned the battlefield that is U.S. politics, the Kennedys have always been on the other side.

But not this Kennedy. He’s not even on the battlefield. And he doesn’t want to fight.

He has perfectly framed the 2024 election

Independent Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks during a campaign rally at Legends Event Center on December 20, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Independent Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks during a campaign rally at Legends Event Center on December 20, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona.

I haven’t paid much attention to RFK Jr.’s campaign. I did notice he took a few detours through the fun house with some elliptical views on vaccines and such.

I also noticed that when he announced for president, he turned and saw his entire dynastic clan thumbing their noses at him.

So, I’m not here to tell you to vote for RFK Jr.

I’m here to tell you that he has perfectly framed the election of 2024 and what it must be about. He did it in a way that only someone unshackled from our two major political parties could do.

I’m telling you that if you have not watched Robert Kennedy Jr.’s “Exemplary Nation” video, run, don’t walk, to YouTube.

Because he is a Kennedy and an Irish Catholic and was baptized and christened in the Democratic Party, Robert Jr. understands those idyllic post-war years were not idyllic for everyone. That America left many of its people behind.

But the country confronted its transgressions and had begun to change.

He notes the work of his father and JFK

The Kennedy commitment to social justice was once described by author and historian William Manchester, who recalled this about President John F. Kennedy:

“His ultimate social issue became civil rights. After Martin Luther King had spoken at the Lincoln Memorial, telling his vast, rapt audience, ‘I have a dream that one day, on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood,’ Kennedy welcomed him to the White House, gripped his hand, and said, ‘I have a dream — the same dream.’”

So, it is no surprise that Robert Kennedy Jr. is imbued with that very spirit:

“We had serious racial and environmental problems, but in the heady days of my youth, the environmental movement and the Civil Rights movement were picking up steam,” he says in the video.

“My father and some of his allies were fighting to eliminate the last pockets of hunger in Appalachia, in the Mississippi Delta and on the Indian reservations. And we became, for the first time, a true constitutional democracy in this country, with all races voting and holding political office.”

“... Those were the traditions of freedom, prosperity and peace and my father, my uncle and Martin Luther King Jr. were striving to protect and advance.”

We've lost that progress. America is off track

But those dreams and that America took a turn somewhere, Kennedy says.

“Neither my father nor my uncle would recognize the version of America that we have today.

“We’ve become a nation of chronic illness, of violence, of loneliness, depression and division and poverty. Our great cities are becoming tent encampments, modern-day Hoovervilles filled with undocumented immigrants and dispossessed Americans and people living in their cars, plagued by mental illness and addiction and despair.

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“… Too many Americans are living bleak and hopeless lives, dreading the one medical emergency or car repair that will tip them over the edge and into homelessness.”

What America needs today is not more pessimism, Kennedy says. We've lived too long in its shadow.

Kennedy's right: Let's heal this divide

“Our nation seems more divided than ever, but Americans everywhere want to heal that divide. Our nation has become artificially divided by political forces that can survive only when we the people are at war with each other.”

“I can tell you that in every state of this union people are rejecting fear-mongering. … They are tired of voting against something or someone. ... They are ready to unite to rebuild this country and to fulfill the promise of the America of my youth.”

It took a man from American royalty, disavowed by his own family and disowned by his party, to look Americans in the eye and tell us that the solution to our problem was never really all that complicated.

It’s us.

And it only begins when we put down our swords and learn to like one another again.

Phil Boas is an editorial columnist with The Arizona Republic. Email him at phil.boas@arizonarepublic.com.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. just perfectly framed the 2024 election