RFK Jr. Pleads with Fellow Democrats for More Civility and Less Censorship
A fiery hearing held Thursday by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the “Weaponization of the Federal Government” unexpectedly became an opportunity for Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to reflect on civility and the seminal importance of free speech in the wake of Democratic committee members accusing him of being racist and anti-Semitic.
In his opening statement, Kennedy announced that he would be setting aside his prepared remarks so that he could address the accusations of racism and anti-Semitism leveled at him by ranking member Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz (D-Fla.), and others. Kennedy’s testimony ended up becoming an impassioned plea for Americans of all political persuasions to become more empathetic of each other and to have greater respect for the free speech protections enshrined in the Constitution.
“Debate — congenial, respectful debate — is the fertilizer, it’s the water, it’s the sunlight for our democracy,” he said, after noting that his speech in April announcing his Democratic 2024 presidential bid was deplatformed by YouTube. “We need to be talking to each other.”
Kennedy then referred to a letter signed by 102 of his fellow Democrats in Congress that attempted to get him barred from testifying at the hearing because of his supposed “anti-Semitism,” noting that “this itself is evidence of the problem that this hearing was convened to address. This is an attempt to censor a censorship hearing.”
“Censorship is antithetical to our [Democratic] party,” Kennedy continued. “It was appalling to my father, to my uncle [John F. Kennedy], to FDR, Harry Truman, Thomas Jefferson. … [Opposition to censorship] sets us apart from all the other forms of government. We need to be able to talk. The First Amendment was not written for easy speech. It was written for the speech that nobody likes you for.”
He went on to observe that the Biden administration invented the word “malinformation” to censor him and others. “There was no misinformation on my Instagram account. Everything I put on that account was cited and sourced by peer-reviewed publications or government databases. … I was removed for something they called ‘malinformation.’ Malinformation is information that is true but is inconvenient to the government, that they don’t want people to hear. That’s antithetical to the values of our country.”
Kennedy further explained that after he announced his candidacy for the presidency, it was harder for the administration and social media platforms to censor him. “So now I’m subject to this new form of censorship which is called ‘targeted propaganda.’ … I am being censored here … through smears, through misinterpretations of what I’ve said, through lies, through association, which is a tactic that we all thought had been discredited and dispensed with after the Army-McCarthy hearings in the 1950s. But those same weapons are now being deployed against me to silence me.”
Kennedy then launched into a fervent appeal for the Democratic Party to turn away from polarization, censorship, and demonization.
“This toxic polarization is destroying our country today. How do we deal with that? This kind of division is more dangerous for our country than any time since the American Civil War. … Every Democrat on this committee believes we need to end that polarization. Do you think you can do that by censoring people? I’m telling you: you cannot. That only aggravates and amplifies the problem. We need to start being kind to each other. We need to start being respectful to each other. We need to start restoring the comity to this chamber and to the rest of America. It has to start here.”
After noting that his uncle, former Senator Ted Kennedy, was able to pass a record amount of legislation by reaching across the aisle, Kennedy discussed the cordial relationship between Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and former Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.
“There are no two people in the country who feel more differently about American politics than these two people, and yet they are friends,” he observed. “Dennis attended his children’s basketball games, attended his daughter’s wedding. This is how we need to start treating each other in this country. We have to stop trying to destroy each other, to marginalize, to vilify, to gaslight each other. We have to find that place inside of ourselves of light, of empathy, of compassion. And above all, we need to elevate the Constitution of the United States which was written for hard times. That has to be the premier compass for all of our activities.”
Immediately after Kennedy finished his statement, Wasserman Schultz moved to halt the hearing, claiming that his past statements on race violated the committee rules. Her motion was voted down. Later in the hearing, Wasserman Schultz refused to allow Kennedy to fully respond to her direct questioning of him regarding his reference to an NIH-funded study that suggested that the coronavirus may have been engineered to target particular ethnicities. Instead of allowing Kennedy to provide context for what he said, Wasserman Schultz repeatedly interrupted his attempted response by stating “reclaiming my time” over and over again.
Later in the hearing, Kennedy issued a stern warning about where government censorship of the citizenry can lead.
“A government that can censor its critics has license for every atrocity,” he underscored. “It is the beginning of totalitarianism. There’s never been a time in history when we look back, and the guys who were censoring people were the good guys. All of us grew up reading Arthur Koestler, Robert Heinlein, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and they were all saying the same thing: once you start censoring, you’re on your way to dystopia and totalitarianism.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.