Politics & Media
Mar 27, 2024, 06:27AM

RFK and His Vices

Plus Alex Jones and Aaron Rodgers.

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I can’t help wondering how Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s choice of Nicole Shanahan—the young, philanthropic, athletic, New Agey ex-wife of a Google founder—as his vice presidential running mate, will affect the ticket’s search engine rankings. Do we believe the algorithms operate objectively and without human rejiggering in these situations?

Consider that just a year ago, Google, its YouTube subsidiary, and most mainstream media prided themselves on downranking anyone touting vaccine “misinformation,” as RFK has spent half his political career doing—whatever we may think of that whole censorious period in cultural history, now that the pandemic is officially a year behind us. It would probably be simplicity itself for our tech overlords to continue helping “democracy” and “science” by turning their attention to burying some of RFK’s more positive press and boosting Biden in the process.

One recent report suggests Google has consciously intervened on behalf of Democrats some 41 times in recent years, after all. This isn’t shocking to me: I recall meeting a young, liberal, male Google staff member back when it was a small, new company, and he explained with bland, unimpassioned coolness his respect for—and belief in the thorough Americanness of—activists who shout down and silence unwelcome conservative speakers on college campuses. All part of the process, to his mind, but in retrospect a plain antecedent of more recent censorship battles.

Maybe Shanahan now has as many powerful, embittered Silicon Valley enemies as she does friends. Then again, maybe she knows better than almost anyone how to game the Silicon Valley system, via both online rankings and meatspace fundraising.

If there were truth to the rumors of an affair between Shanahan and her fellow Burning Man attender Elon Musk (purportedly the reason for her divorce from Google’s Sergey Brin, though Shanahan and Musk deny it), that might actually help her rankings on X. Musk seems at heart a polyamorist, for good or ill, and likely enjoys boosting his exes, no pun intended. If RFK and Shanahan make it to the White House, maybe they’ll all even get along well enough for Musk’s mate Grimes to make an inaugural gala appearance, despite her being Canadian.

Let us hope RFK’s wife Cheryl Hines from Curb Your Enthusiasm, too, is comfortable with her husband—who confessed to cheating on his deceased prior wife with about a dozen women in a single year—traveling the country for the next few months with a young woman who looks and sounds just a little like a smaller, East Asian version of Hines. Presumably, Hines has long since come to terms with her own resemblance to RFK’s mom, 95-years-old Ethel Kennedy. As long as they’re all happy, I’m happy for them. I’ll be even more happy if these connections lead to Curb Your Enthusiasm star Larry David being White House press secretary (“Pretty, pretty, pretty good prospects for resolving the current crisis,” etc.).

We’ll never know how much RFK’s signal might’ve been boosted by picking New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers as his running mate instead, but at least I, a New Yorker but not a sports fan, now know that Rodgers is a Jets quarterback, not just a vaccine skeptic talked about by RFK as a possible running mate on a Libertarian Party ticket. I also know that there are two(!) NFL teams in New York State. I’m still not sure about the rules or anything, but I’ve seen some footage of the kicking and tackling and so forth.

The most recent evidence that Rodgers is a conspiracy theorist, though, isn’t his skepticism about vaccines but his skepticism about whether a real massacre of kids occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012—a view reported secondhand by someone who had a brief conversation with him about the topic. Rodgers is likely just a casual conspiracy theorist, not a professional one like ex-governor Jesse Ventura, who was also considered by RFK as a running mate.

My own position is that it should be socially and legally acceptable to raise weird questions about anything, though the risks of touting firm answers—repeatedly and with insults and aspersions thrown in—are underscored by HBO’s documentary The Truth vs. Alex Jones on the controversy, climaxing with a near-billion-dollar libel verdict against conspiracy theorist Jones.

Is it mere coincidence HBO unveiled the documentary on the same day that RFK, had he not picked Shanahan, might well have unveiled Rodgers as his running mate? How many times can I ask that question before I too deserve to be sued? Are Pamela Brown and Jake Tapper of CNN (like HBO, owned by Warner) risking a future libel suit by Rodgers if they don’t merely counter his beliefs with facts but refer to those beliefs with seeming malice as “deranged conspiracy theories,” as they do in this piece?

Many, perhaps most, of humanity’s beliefs are crazy, but trying to control or silence most of them is even more crazy. So, I look forward to RFK being part of the dialogue for at least the remaining seven and half months of this presidential campaign season—and sounding a little bit like a green-libertarian-anti-duopoly-populist while he’s at it. It’s not as if his two main opponents are models of lucidity and rationality, after all, nor champions of liberty and fiscal responsibility.

Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on X at @ToddSeavey


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