The crowd that streamed onto the campus of St. Anselm College Tuesday night to hear Robert F. Kennedy Jr. give a speech on foreign policy was so large the line into Dana Center-Koonz Theatre stretched all the way to the top of campus.
And the political policy Kennedy offered to address the international challenges of Russia and China has a progressive legacy that stretches all the way back to the 196os: Peace, not provocation.
Attendance at Kennedy’s event was so large — an estimated 700 people, according to campus sources — his speech had to be delayed for 30 minutes to find overflow space to accommodate the crowd.
What they got for their patience was an unvarnished, old-school progressive view of American foreign policy, replete with references to the “military-industrial complex.” (And a huge cheer from the crowd when he declared, “It’s time to reverse that!”)
Perhaps the most provocative statement of the night was Kennedy’s own allegation of provocation: Suggesting the U.S. helped provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
“I abhor Russia’s brutal and bloody invasion of that nation,” Kennedy said. “But we must understand that our government has also contributed to its circumstances with repeated, deliberate provocations of Russia going back to the 1990s.
“Democratic and Republican administrations have pushed NATO to Russia’s borders, violated our own solemn promise in the early nineties when we pledged that if Russia made this terrible concession of moving 400,000 troops out of East Germany and allowing the unification of Germany under a possible NATO army. And we would commit that after that not move NATO one inch to the east,” Kennedy said.
“Instead, we have moved it — not one inch, but a thousand miles and 14 nations. We have surrounded Russia with missiles and military bases, something that we would never tolerate if the Russians did that to us.”
Kennedy, who is running as a progressive populist and political outsider, has embraced unorthodox views on many issues, from anti-vaccine advocacy to the alleged health risks of cellphone technology to conspiracy theories about the assassinations of his father and uncle. Many mainstream Democrats have denounced his candidacy and its message, but political observers note there is a rich strain of these left-of-center populists in New Hampshire, as evidenced by the success of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Like Kennedy, Sanders has also urged warm relations between the U.S. and Russia extending back to when it was still the center of a Communist police state. And while populist foreign policy may be isolationist in the sense of extending U.S. military power abroad, Kennedy rejected the West’s current policy of isolating Vladimir Putin.
“Today, America has broken off practically all diplomatic contact with Russia, so the communication has indeed become a little more than an exchange of threats and insults,” Kennedy warned. “FDR met with Stalin. JFK met with Khrushchev Nixon met with Brezhnev. Reagan met with Gorbachev.
“Can’t Biden meet with Putin?”
Mike Sweeney from Albany, N.H., liked what he heard from Kennedy.
“He speaks a lot of truth, and he’s a very personable human being.”
Asked if he thinks Kennedy can beat Biden, Sweeney said, “One hundred percent. We wouldn’t be here otherwise. People have eyes, and things are so far off the rails that I think just being real is going to be the thing that gets through.”
Like Sweeney, Matt Burgess from Massachusetts said he has no interest in voting for Biden and is leaning toward Kennedy. He agreed that RFK Jr. can defeat Biden and offered some campaign strategy tips.
“I think he should stick to doing podcasts. Don’t go on any mainstream networks….I think he should keep with the strategy he’s going with,” Burgess said. “I think he can win.”
Jeffrey Parker and his wife, Liz, came up from Concord, Mass., to hear Kennedy speak. They said they also believe Biden can be beaten.
“I’m not voting for Biden,” said Jeffrey Parker. “If it was a real vote, if it’s a fair election, Biden has no hope. Even Democrats are sick of Biden now. No one wants Biden.”
Liz Parker said that while Ukraine is a high priority, “I also have issues with all the COVID lockdowns and vax and all that. That’s really important to me because I have kids.”
As for RFK Jr.’s Ukraine policy, she noted, “No one in government right now is saying the word’ peace,’ and I think that says it all.”