Robert F. Kennedy Jr., like his late father, Robert F. Kennedy, long has had a reputation for bluntness. And though a partisan of the Democratic Party Left, he can be as unsparing in his assessment of his allies as he is of anyone else. Just how unsparing was brought home yesterday in the New York Post in an article that summarized several of the younger Kennedy’s entries in a diary back in 2001. Obtained by veteran Post reporters Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein, the diary underscores many things National Legal and Policy Center has been saying for years, particularly about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. See my Special Report titled Mainstreaming Demagoguery: Al Sharpton’s Rise to Respectability. Kennedy had written that the two civil rights leaders “give me the creeps.” One takes satisfaction in the knowledge that disdain for some of more disreputable members of the nation’s political upper class is an activity not limited by party or ideology.
Now 59, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is almost as much a public figure as his late father, former U.S. Attorney General and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y., cut down by an assassin in June 1968 during his presidential run. The third of eleven children, the younger Kennedy is an attorney, a well-published author, an environmental activist, and the host of an independently syndicated radio talk show, “Ring of Fire.” But it is his political diary, part of which the New York Post divulged on Sunday, that is making him hot right now – and not in a happy way. Kennedy had written his opinions of more than two dozen public figures in the fat red book, many as deserved as they were unflattering. Kennedy indicated his displeasure over yesterday’s revelations in an e-mail:
The New York Post has chosen to print excerpts from a 13-year-old (sic) diary illegally stolen from me. The diary served as a tool for self-examination and for dealing with my spiritual struggles at the time. It also contains unedited, unfiltered stream-of-consciousness musings about current events and people. Nothing in that diary was ever meant for publication. I have nothing but respect for Governor (Andrew) Cuomo, Rev. Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, all of whom have distinguished themselves as extraordinary national leaders over the past decade.
The fact remains that a dozen years ago, at various points during 2001, Kennedy didn’t mince any words about these and other persons. Here are some diary samples.
Jesse Jackson. Our diarist apparently had some serious disdain for Jesse Jackson Sr., the Chicago-based civil rights leader and twice-presidential candidate (1984 and 1988). Jackson, wrote Kennedy, has “a desperate and destructive addiction to publicity.” Kennedy recalled the 1993 funeral of California farm workers’ leader Cesar Chavez, which both had attended. Jackson “pushed Cesar’s friends and family out of the way to make himself lead pall bearer.” Moreover, wrote Kennedy, “His (Jackson’s) love affair with Louis Farrakhan and his Jewish xenophobia are also unforgiveable.” Kennedy summarized his subject: “I feel dirty around him, and I feel like I’m being used. I feel like with Jesse, it’s all about Jesse.” He is, of course, not the first person to feel this way – Jackson’s crude egomania already had been well-documented – but it’s significant that a strong political ally would make the same point.
Al Sharpton. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. thought no more of Reverend Al Sharpton, the New York City-based preacher, civil rights leader and eventual presidential candidate in the 2004 race. Sharpton, wrote Kennedy, is a “buffoon,” who never had escaped the “stench” of his public advocacy of Tawana Brawley, a black Dutchess County, N.Y. teenager who had claimed she was assaulted and raped by a group of men, including law enforcement officers, over several days in November 1987. The accusations, which became almost daily national news thanks to Sharpton-generated hysteria, eventually was revealed beyond any reasonable doubt to be a hoax. “Al Sharpton has done more damage to the black cause than George Wallace,” wrote Kennedy. “He has suffocated the decent black leaders in New York. His transparent venal blackmail and extortion schemes taint all black leadership.” It’s significant that Sharpton, Jackson and Jackson’s wife Jacqueline, along with Kennedy, each had been arrested in April 2001 for trespassing during highly-publicized protests on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, a small portion of which was used by the U.S. Navy as a practice bombing range.
Andrew Cuomo. Now governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, son of former New York Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo, is a take-no-prisoners politician himself. And for a decade and a half he also was Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s brother-in-law; the younger Cuomo during 1990-2005 had been married to a sister, Kerry Kennedy. RFK Jr. might have a family quarrel on his hands right now. Kennedy recalled in his diary a conversation he and Cuomo had on New Year’s Day 2001 concerning the latter’s political plans. At the time, Cuomo was finishing his tenure as President Clinton’s second-term secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Kennedy wrote down not long afterward: “Andrew could win because he is totally focused and energetic. He could lose because he lacks humanity and doesn’t love people. He is not a retail politician.”
Mario Cuomo. As a three-term governor of New York (January 1, 1983-December 31, 1994), Mario Cuomo was the consummate “sharp elbows” politician. Blunt, liberal and proud of it, he was on everyone’s A-list of future presidential material following his rousing keynote address at the 1984 Democratic Party National Convention in San Francisco. But by 2001 Kennedy had a problem with his father-in-law, also a lawyer. The elder Cuomo at the time was working on a deal to spare RFK Jr. a sentence following his arrest at the Vieques demonstration. Kennedy, who sought to generate attention to endangered species in the region, insisted on being treated like other protestors. In his diary, he denounced Cuomo, though later congratulated him on “a good job.” Kennedy, for the record, served 30 days in jail.
The reader should not glean from any of this that Kennedy was some kind of closet Republican. He was anything but that. Kennedy at one point wrote that President George W. Bush, then in his first year in the White House, was “an idiot and a puppet.” Watching Bush on TV was “painful.” Of Reagan-era Attorney General Ed Meese, Kennedy wrote: “I had to hold my nose when I shook hands with Ed Meese, but I did it.” And while praising New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani during the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, he had no kind words for his political aspirations. Kennedy wrote: “I saw Rudy Giuliani, that little despot, threatening on TV last night to make some sort of deal with the mayoral candidates about staying on for a couple extra months.” RFK the Younger is still on the case. Last December he told HuffPost Live that the “right-wing” media, especially Fox News, are dividing our country in ways not seen since the Civil War.
Yet the most pertinent revelations of the Kennedy diary arguably are those that take his allies to task. These may not be original observations, but they do add credibility to the charge, often made by NLPC, that certain political operatives of the Left, especially Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, are demagogues who can’t be trusted. Whatever the method – assuming it was legal – that New York Post reporters Isabel Vincent (who in the past has publicized NLPC findings) and Melissa Klein used to obtain the diary, they should be commended for going the extra mile. The Kennedy family is well-known for its aggressive aversion to criticism and negative exposure. “If I find out who has called me ruthless, I will destroy him,” Robert F. Kennedy Sr. once remarked, arguably only half-jokingly. The late senator was well-known for his off-the-cuff opinions. Few would doubt that his namesake son, for better or worse, has inherited this trait.