Robert Kennedy Jr. Skewers the GOP Debate While Invoking ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ as a Rallying Cry

Democratic Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has weighed in on the August 23 GOP Presidential candidates debate. Unsurprisingly, he could have been more impressed. What is eye-opening is how he referenced Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” as the foundation for his criticism of the Republican candidates.

Kennedy continued:

Now that is an extraordinary song — raw, yet intelligent; defiant, yet compassionate. It’s about working-class hardship. It is about low wages (“bullshit pay”). It’s about degraded food supply, elite corruption, obesity, homelessness, despair.

Candidates could have talked about these things. But they said nothing about the desperation + hardship working people face. They said nothing about wages or housing, food, child care + medical costs, or what we can do about it. They said nothing about systemic corruption that enriches corporations + elites as swaths of the former middle class fall into poverty.

Instead, they recycled Reagan-era cliches about cutting spending, being “tough” on drugs, crime, China, etc., and ending abortion.

They were obsessed with “America’s adversaries” — but blind to how our policies have been deliberately constructed to CREATE adversaries and enrich the defense industry while bankrupting the nation.

They were obsessed with closing the border (which I agree with), but have no proposals to expand legal immigration or address the conditions that drive migration (again, in large part that is U.S. policy).

They obsess about cutting spending (except defense — they want MORE of that) but offer not innovative proposals to address the decay of our infrastructure, wages + environment.

Our nation deserves better than posturing + bickering masquerading as debate. Instead of arguing, we can tap into the swelling popular will to turn this country around.

Oliver Anthony has tapped into something that can unify our nation. Nearly everyone wants to reverse our decline, to end the corruption, to rebuild from the inside. Let’s talk about how to do that. #Kennedy24

There is a lot to contemplate here.

One point immediately jumping out is Kennedy Jr.’s reference to “Rich Men North of Richmond.” The pre-progressive Democratic mantra was that it was the people’s party, the one dedicated to working men and women in their battles for fair pay and decent working conditions against the greedy oligarchy of monopolistic business coddled and feted by Republicans. While still paying the (very) occasional lip service to this notion, today’s Democrats make little if any effort to hide their desire to run all aspects of all Americans’ lives — where we work, what we eat, what we drive, and so on. By highlighting Oliver Anthony’s song as a rallying cry, Kennedy Jr. plainly stakes out his position as an advocate of traditional personal liberty as laid out by the Founding Fathers.

Whether one agrees with him or not, Kennedy Jr. has the commendable trait of detailing his argument’s foundation. An example is how he sharply criticizes the GOP candidates at the debate for criticizing America’s adversaries — China, one assumes Russia — yet, in his view, failed to note how American policy related to tax dollars endlessly feeding the military-industrial complex is in no small part responsible for these adversarial relationships.

Kennedy Jr. mentions how he, too, wishes to end illegal immigration by sealing the border. Yet instead of leaving it there, he expresses his belief in work on multiple levels, including expanding legal immigration and addressing U.S. policies that, in his view, exacerbate conditions in the Americas and elsewhere, leading to so many wishing to enter the country. In May 2023, he commented:

He also urged officials to address U.S. policies that create the conditions that cause many migrants to flee their countries in the first place, citing the war on drugs. 

“The War on Drugs is one,” Kennedy posted. “U.S.-funded dictators, juntas, paramilitaries, and death squads. Neoliberal extraction of resources. Unpayable debts. It is inhumane and hypocritical to deny immigration while creating the conditions that drive immigration. As President, I will change these policies. That’s the only long-term solution to the border crisis.”

Kennedy Jr.’s closing comments are worth repeating.

Despite a hostile media dedicated to defending Joe Biden at all costs, Robert Kennedy Jr. is gaining popularity by tapping into much the same vein as Donald Trump. His message of the American people first and foremost resonates with an America weary of being run over by politicians seeking nothing but power for themselves. The question is: Aside from Trump, will the other GOP candidates listen?

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