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RFK Jr. and the Case of the Missing Credibility

Why exactly RFK Jr. likes to hitch his wagon to a never-ending train of already debunked conspiracy theories is anyone's guess, but he certainly isn't covering much new ground with his Rolling Stone article on the "stolen" 2004 election in Ohio.

It is perhaps the worst of signs for a liberal when Salon is the forum for his or her most thorough dressing down. Farhad Manjoo writes, in that day-pass protected Shangri-La:

If you do read Kennedy's article, be prepared to machete your way through numerous errors of interpretation and his deliberate omission of key bits of data. The first salient omission comes in paragraph 5, when Kennedy writes, "In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots." To back up that assertion, Kennedy cites "Democracy at Risk," the report the Democrats released last June.

That report does indeed point out that many people -- 26 percent -- who first registered in 2004 did not find their names on the voter rolls at polling places. What Kennedy doesn't say, though, is that the same study found no significant difference in the share of Kerry voters and Bush voters who came to the polls and didn't find their names listed. The Democrats' report says that 4.2 percent of Kerry voters were forced to cast a "provisional" ballot and that 4.1 percent of Bush voters were made to do the same -- a stat that lowers the heat on Kennedy's claim of "astounding" partisanship.

Such techniques are evident throughout Kennedy's article. He presents a barrage of seemingly important, apparently damning data to show that Kerry won the race. It's only when you dig into his claims that you see what thin ice he's on.

It goes on like that.

OK, just a little more, so you want have to go get that day pass:

Kennedy's headlining claim is that 357,000 voters, "most of them Democratic," were either prevented from voting or had their votes go uncounted, making Kerry (who lost by 118,000) the likely true winner. Kennedy finds these "missing votes" in the damnedest places. He counts 30,000 voter registrations that were deleted from voter rolls, in keeping with state law, as mostly Kerry voters, though it's impossible to know if those were even real people. He says that 174,000 mostly Kerry voters didn't vote because they were put off by long lines. But the source states it was actually 129,543 voters, and that those votes would have split evenly between Kerry and Bush. And that same source -- the Democratic Party's report once again -- notes conclusively: "Despite the problems on Election Day, there is no evidence from our survey that John Kerry won the state of Ohio." But Kennedy doesn't tell you that.

Ah, heck, go get the day pass...

And once you're done there, read Bob Bauer's analysis of the impact the Kennedy piece is having. Bauer, a progressive campaign-finance lawyer (and, by the by, campaign-finance-reform opponent), writes that Kennedy's article satisfies Democratic partisans while shifting the debate on election reform in a way that mostly benefits Republicans.

A snippet:

Robert Kennedy, Jr, meet John Fund: the two of you have more in common than you know. True, Kennedy would argue that some of the criminal and unethical behavior here is uniquely Republican or right wing in nature--such as in the targeting of minority and African-American neighborhoods, which is fairly condemned as a standing disgrace. But he is also portraying a system so vulnerable to fraud that Republicans can have their way with it, engineering the purposeful disenfranchisement of enough voters to change the outcome of a Presidential election.

If this is so, then anyone can aspire to carry out the same kind of plot. Hence: election fraud, not enfranchisement, becomes the central issue of the day--just as Republicans would like to argue, and just as they do, all the time and as a matter of institutional policy.

I'm not sure I agree with Bauer on the policy, that a focus on voter fraud is such a bad thing. But he couldn't be more astute on the politics.