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Your Silence is Not Complicity: A Note to the Kennedys about Bobby.
This will be brief, as I’m nearing deadlines on multiple projects. I’m also staying at my mother’s house, getting ready to welcome my children for a week’s visit, and planning a return to L.A. – and the hunt for a new studio apartment.
As Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign for president continues to draw attention, the pressure has grown on his very large, very famous family to denounce his candidacy. His sister and other relatives have given into the temptation to condemn their own flesh and blood.
On CNN and MSNBC, the anxiety about the possibility of a third-party campaign grows. Could the nephew of one of the most beloved Democratic presidents derail the re-election of another Democrat, the considerably less adored incumbent?
I am not interested in Bobby’s views, or his private life, or his battle against spasmodic dysphonia. Some people I respect and like support him; others whom I adore see RFK as a dangerous grifter.
I am interested in how we speak of our kin. I am interested in how we weigh love against politics. I am interested in how we balance loyalty to our relations with the loyalty we imagine we owe to our party, or to our country, or to the truth.
I am interested in this because I am a Black Sheep, someone who has brought great embarrassment to his family. Exactly ten years ago, reporters came to this house to speak to me – and to ask my mother what she thought of the mess I had made of my life. I have watched a journalist sit in an elegantly upholstered armchair in my mother’s living room, sip my mother’s coffee, eat my mother’s biscuits, and ask my mother to pass judgment on her son.
When your spouse or your cousin or your brother or your son misbehaves in a way that has drawn the attention of the press, or he announces he holds views with which you strongly disagree, you have a choice. Do you surrender to the pressure of the mob to condemn your loved one? Do you deny you even knew him? Do you speak of your disappointment? Do you give into the dark and sad temptation to make it all about you, and feed the media beast with your own tearful narrative of betrayal? (“I don’t understand how Bobby could do this. This isn’t how he was raised. We’re all so confused and hurt.”)
Or do you remember that the passions of the moment will fade? Do you remind yourself the election will come, and then go? Do you resist the irrational fear that your relation’s conduct will taint your family legacy? Do you understand that maybe, just maybe, you don’t have to buy the lies with which the mob will bait you? Lies like Not saying anything is saying something! If you don’t condemn, it means you approve! What you do not damn, you bless!
No matter who your loved one is, or what they have done, or what they believe, I implore you to consider that you do not owe the world a public declaration of your dismay. I am grateful to the family members who have reproached me in private over the years but have never let a word of public disapproval pass their lips. Bobby Kennedy is not so fortunate.
When your relation has done poorly, you can say this: “I love my brother. (Or my third cousin once-removed.) Families often disagree, but even families that live public lives should keep their disagreements private. I will neither endorse nor repudiate my loved one, and if you misinterpret my silence as either, then shame on you. No further comment.”
I realize that is not the spirit of an age, but – to mix the imagery -- it is a good hill on which to die.