April 25, 2024

CNN’s Erin Burnett is smart and always well-prepared (I used to appear on her show regularly). That showed Monday night in her interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. She did something I wish I had thought to do: She went back and found his statements denouncing Ralph Nader, a man he said he respected, for being a “spoiler” in 2000.

The interview is getting more attention for Kennedy’s insisting, falsely and despicably, that President Joe Biden is a greater threat to democracy than the twice-impeached, insurrection-fomenting, promised Day One dictator Donald Trump. I’ll get to that.

But first I want to make sure we note Kennedy’s truly excellent denunciation of Nader as a “spoiler” in 2000. Everything he said about the former consumer crusader then applies to him today. He’s just too narcissistic to get it.

Burnett played part of an interview in which he told NBC news, in late 2000, “There’s a political reality here, which is that his candidacy could draw enough votes in certain key states from Al Gore to give the entire election to George W Bush.” That was prescient. In a New York Times op-ed, he wrote:

Ralph Nader is my friend and hero, but his Green Party candidacy for the presidency could torpedo efforts to address the nation’s most important environmental challenges. The threat, of course, is that Mr. Nader’s candidacy could siphon votes from Al Gore, the environment’s most visible champion since Theodore Roosevelt, and lead to the election of George W. Bush.

Mr. Nader dismisses his spoiler role by arguing that there is little distinction between the major parties’ candidates and that Mr. Gore has compromised on too many issues. While I admire Mr. Nader’s high-minded ideals, his suggestion that there is no difference between Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush is irresponsible.

When the anchor challenged him, noting he’d just told her the same thing about Trump and Biden, Kennedy went all in: “Listen, I make the argument that President Biden is a much worse threat to democracy.” Why, you might wonder? “President Biden is the first candidate and the first president in history has used the federal agencies to censor political speech or censor his opponents. You know, I can say that because…37 hours after he took the oath of office, he was censoring me.” He continued: “The greatest threat to democracy is not somebody who questions election returns.”

What is he talking about? Kennedy sued the Biden administration last year, alleging that officials pressured social media firms to “censor” him, by complaining that he was spreading misinformation about the dangers of the Covid vaccine. His account was banned by Instagram in 2021; both Facebook and Instagram, owned by Meta, banned his noxious, myth-spreading Children’s Health Defense accounts the next year. The notoriously Trump-friendly US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sided with Kennedy; the judgment is held up while the Supreme Court considers a similar lawsuit by Texas and Florida officials. (Instagram reinstated Kennedy’s personal account but neither Meta site restored the Children’s Health Defense accounts.)

Even before Biden was elected, however, public health officials were slamming Kennedy for his persistent Covid lies. It was at a 2022 Children’s Health Defense event that he claimed Holocaust victims had it better than Americans who wanted to defy vaccine and mask mandates: “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.” After his own wife, Cheryl Hines, denounced the remarks, Kennedy apologized.

So there you have it: Kennedy says Biden is worse than Trump for democracy because a couple of his public health officials e-mailed Twitter and Facebook to complain he was spreading falsehoods. (There is zero evidence they pressured the tech giants to “censor” him.) As always, it’s all about him.

Historians and others quickly blasted Kennedy for his ridiculous statement about Biden. “It’s a preposterous claim,” Daniel Ziblatt, a coauthor of How Democracies Die, told The Washington Post .“To be a politician committed to democracy, there are two cardinal rules: One must accept election outcomes, win or lose; one must not threaten or use violence to gain power. Donald Trump has clearly violated both rules, while President Biden never has.”

Note that last point: “one must not threaten or use violence to gain power.” Trump has repeatedly done that, with not only his January 6 insurrection incitement but also repeated attacks, some of which border on threats, on the judges and attorneys and even their families involved in the criminal and civil cases against him. Many have received death threats and now travel with extra protection.

And only days ago, Trump shared a photo of supporters with a photo of a hog-tied President Biden on the back of a truck, an incredibly sick and disturbing image. Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat told the Post that RFK Jr.’s claim that Biden is the biggest threat to democracy could incite violence against the president. You’d think a man whose uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and father, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, were assassinated would be more concerned about inciting violence against politicians. But you’d be wrong.