Louisiana Senator David Vitter and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
These are two names that are not ordinarily linked. Senator Vitter, of course, is the Republican Senator now in the news because of his admission that, family values candidate that he may be, he has in fact been a patron of both the increasingly infamous D.C. Madam and, in the words of an AP dispatch, a "high-priced New Orleans brothel." (The Senator says this last report is not true.) Mr. Kennedy is in the news because of a talk at one of Al Gore's Global Warming concerts in which he scorched politicians and talk show hosts for "treason." Among other things Mr. Kennedy called his targets "corporate toadies."
Vitter's problem is easily recognizable. Whatever else he will be charged with, it is fair to say that hypocrisy on a fairly vivid scale will now mar whatever of his political career that remains. Whether he is re-elected or defeated, the Senator has scarred himself badly as someone who says one thing for political profit while doing the opposite in his own life. It is precisely the kind of action that breeds distrust of political leaders.
Which brings us to Robert Kennedy, Jr. A word here about the Kennedys. Certainly I have been a critic in this space about Senator Edward Kennedy and his conduct on the Senate Judiciary Committee. But like many baby boomers, before there was Reagan there was JFK -- and JFK's brother Bobby, Mr. Kennedy's father. As a kid and a teenager I was an unabashed fan in spite of growing up in an activist Republican and conservative family. I admired them for their activism, their work on civil rights and, in the early 1960s, the Cold War. Then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy and later Senator and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy appeared to me as a perfect blend of passion, idealism, and toughness, a willingness to say and do the unpopular, to stand up for the little guy at home and fight the bad guys abroad. I was such an avid RFK supporter that when he died I persuaded my very Republican Mom to let me go to New York so I could stand in line to pass by RFK's casket in St. Patrick's Cathedral. She hopped the bus from Pennsylvania with me, of course, and the memory of spending six hours standing in line beneath a hot June sun to simply walk by and touch the flag-draped bier remains especially vivid.
A college professor of mine once gave a lecture in the early 1970s critical of some Kennedy-era policy. He was met with a barrage of criticism from the class. Shaking his head, he said the Kennedys would never be judged fairly until the last baby-boomer and the emotional tie to the Kennedy legend had died. Point taken. And I guess I should add in the interest of full disclosure at this point that my teen-age idealism about Bobby Kennedy still burning bright, I gave a hard-earned hundred bucks in my increasingly conservative adulthood to the RFK Memorial.
While I have long since been Reaganized, I still look to Kennedy family members to carry out their modern-day activism on behalf of causes with which I fervently disagree -- and to do it with the clear-eyed dedication and honor that I perceived so long ago from Mr. Kennedy's father.
So I look at the Vitter case, where a man who campaigns on family values visits prostitutes and I wonder: What possesses Robert Kennedy, Jr.? Here's a sampling of his typically overheated rhetoric, beginning with the title of a book he has written:
* "Crimes Against Nature: How George Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy."
* "I ask myself a lot of times, how did they get so many draft dodgers in one place? You know, the President; Dick Cheney, five deferments; John Ashcroft, six deferments; ...these people that don't understand the values that make America worth fighting for..."
* "Abraham Lincoln, the greatest Republican in our history, said during the height of the Civil War 'I have the South in front of me and the bankers behind me. And for my country, I fear the bankers more.'"
* "[Corporations] are amoral, and we have to recognize that and not let them into the political process. â€¦they should not be participating in our political process, because a corporation cannot do something genuinely philanthropic."
There's plenty more out there, but you get the idea. Mr. Kennedy wants corporations out of politics, he despises the people and policies they support, and apparently believes in his soul that a corporation simply is incapable of doing anything genuinely philanthropic. He specifically accuses "George Bush and His Corporate Pals" of plunder and worse. While I disagree with all of this, RFK, Jr. is welcome to his world view.
THE PROBLEM: TAKE A LOOK at the website for the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, home to the legacy and papers of Mr. Kennedy's father. Like all presidential libraries, it is nothing less than a shrine, in this case to both JFK and his younger brother Bobby.
But there is something else going on here. You will quickly find that the legacy and papers of former Attorney General and Senator Robert F. Kennedy are being promoted and housed by a library that boasts -- boasts mind you -- of its corporate sponsorship. One of those supporters is the Bank of America. You know -- an institution that is not only an "amoral" corporation, but run by those "bankers" that RFK, Jr. quotes Abraham Lincoln as being so concerned about.
According to the JFK Library, the Bank of America has donated -- annually -- "above $25,000" to the Library, a donation that the Library says it is "grateful" for, lauding BA as a "Legacy Champion." Meaning the Bank of America is a "champion" of the legacies of both John and Robert Kennedy. This money also entitles BA to a seat on the Library Foundation's "President's Council" headed by Caroline Kennedy and former Democratic National Chairman Paul Kirk.
Let's go back to RFK. Jr.'s quotes. Remember the subtitle of his book? "How George Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy." And the line "how did they get so many draft dodgers in one place" (meaning Bush, Cheney etc.)? Then there was the idea that corporations "should not be participating in our political process."
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Bush-Cheney administration is in power in part because of donations from "corporate pals" like -- well -- the Bank of America. Specifically, we can start with the contributions from one Kenneth D. Lewis, the chairman of the Bank of America. Mr. Lewis, according to Political Money Line, not only ponied up $15,000 to the Republican National Committee during the 2004 presidential election, he gave another $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign. In that same election cycle, BA's political action committee donated $620, 769 to Republican candidates.
While I certainly would applaud both BA's philanthropic and political choices, the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, founded by ex-Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and funded by left-wing billionaire George Soros, is fuming about BA's politics. CAP has actually taken the time to total up Bank of America's contributions to Republicans, finding that since 2000 it gave President Bush $88,100 in hard money contributions, $181,655 in soft money to the Republican National Committee, and $992, 068 to Republican candidates. The Podesta group revealed all of this in particular outrage at the BA's participation in a group called "Employers' Coalition on Medicare", which Podesta charges was organized for the sole purpose of slashing the health care benefits of retirees.
SO LET'S SUM UP. On the one hand, we have Senator Vitter, loudly proclaimed family values guy, hanging ten quite literally in high-toned dens of prostitution. And we have RFK Jr., famous for his hot rhetoric about the evil "corporate pals" of Bush and Cheney but silent as a church mouse about one of these self-same Bush "corporate pals" hanging a financial ten "above $25,000" to promote his father and uncle's legacy at the Kennedy Library. The very same "corporate pals" that have repeatedly given hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect not only Bush and Cheney but one heck of a lot of other Republicans are apparently "corporate pals" of the Kennedys as well.
Just as Senator Vitter appears to be a repeat offender on the hypocrisy front, this new information about RFK Jr. and the Bank of America is not the first time the younger Bobby Kennedy has had problems with charges of being two-faced. A prominent environmentalist and global warming activist he has confessed to Sean Hannity on the air that he flies around in gas guzzling private jets. He has also drawn fire for opposing an environmental favorite with a Not-in-My-Backyard stance against placing a non-polluting, non-global warming wind farm in the middle of the Nantucket Sound. The shores of the Nantucket Sound, of course, are home to the famous Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port and the wealthy wind farm critics are afraid it would spoil their view.
In short, a disturbing image of RFK, Jr. as a Vitter-like hypocrite is slowly beginning to jell.
If politics were baseball, RFK Jr.'s apparent acceptance of the idea of using large sums of money from Bush-Cheney supporters like the Bank of America to promote his father and uncle's legacies would be strike three. Mr. Kennedy's passion for his causes, like his father's, is something to be admired, even if I find RFK Jr.'s hopelessly wrong and his rhetoric wildly over the top. But as Senator Vitter has discovered, spending time in the company of prostitutes hoping no one will notice when one is famous for opposing the values exemplified by prostitution is an invitation to lost credibility.
There's an old saying of George Bernard Shaw's that Senator Robert Kennedy loved to quote during his presidential campaign. After a speech that inevitably involved a thumb-to-forefinger jab in the air with a demand that America could "do better", Bobby Kennedy would say that "some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were, and say why not?"
Let's repeat the first half of that.
"Some people see things as they are and say 'why?'" After asking themselves why things are as they really are with both Senator Vitter and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., some people will very understandably also think that not only Vitter but Robert F. Kennedy Jr. can do better.
If he really believes what he says he believes, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. could start by remembering that prostitution isn't just about accepting favors from women.
Jeffrey Lord is the creator, co-founder and CEO of QubeTV, a conservative online video sharing site. A former Reagan White House political director and an author, he writes from Pennsylvania.
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