Michael Smerconish Hosts A SiriusXM Town Hall With Democratic Presidential Candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the slain senator, is running for president on the conspiracy theory ticket.

Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Don’t let RFK Jr. kill you

Anti-vaxxers and other conspiracy nuts offer a trap for the unwary. Don’t bet your life on them.

Lucky that I never thought of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as anything other than a crank. Because now I don’t have to die.

It was a week ago Friday that my wife got sick. Her doctor sent us to a walk-in clinic for the more advanced COVID test. She suggested I get tested, too — I had a cough. I almost said no but was trying to be agreeable: OK, fine, whatever, honey. Swab me too, doc.

My wife had strep. And I had both strep and COVID.

Guess that pandemic isn’t over quite yet.

Opinion bug

Opinion

Were I, like Kennedy, lost in a paranoid fantasy bordering on pure hallucination, I could offer my getting COVID after five, count ‘em, five, vaccinations as proof they don’t work.

Except vaccinations don’t guarantee you won’t get an illness, just greatly decrease your odds of getting sick, and, if you do, boost your chance of having a milder case. They’re like seatbelts — you can still get killed in a crash. Seatbelts just skew the chances of survival greatly in your favor.

In fact, for the first miserable week, the strep was worse — thank you Paxlovid! Swallowing felt like gobbling rusty gravel. But that passed, and COVID tag teamed into the ring and hit me with a folding chair.

COVID feels like ... what? Exhaustion and a deep bronchial cough, the Hulk squeezing you like a dog’s rubber squeak toy until you wheeze out every last cubic centimeter of air in your lungs and a bit, ah, that is not air.

Thanks to vaccines and Paxlovid, I endured a faint shadow of what I’d go through without them, my heart going out to Americans who died alone in some crowded hospital because they took the anti-medical balderdash of Kennedy et al seriously. Who died croaking out their fealty to Trump.

They didn’t understand how conspiracy theories work. The classic case is Holocaust denial. These are not historically rigorous people who have found holes in the best documented crime ever — the Germans, meticulous to a fault. No, these are anti-Semites who, unwilling to acknowledge the place their irrational hatred leads them, try to shrug it away.

Ditto for anti-vaxxers. They aren’t skeptical, they’re dupes, convincing themselves they hold secret occult knowledge. Viewing life through the lens of transparent nonsense lodged in their brains. That’s why fabulists like Kennedy don’t just concoct one delusion but many. Each lie breeds another.

As soon as Trump decided the 2020 election was stolen — it hadda be! He didn’t get to stay president otherwise! — he was compelled to keep going, to conjure up a deep state conspiracy of the courts and the media and the FBI and everybody with a foot in the fact-based world who told him he was wrong.

Kennedy is a human laundry list of confabulation the media feels compelled to document in agonizing detail. Kennedy not only believes his father, RFK, and his uncle, JFK — and how they must be spinning in their graves — were murdered by the CIA, but Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, too. The more the merrier. When you’re making stuff up, the sky’s the limit.

Conspiracy theorism is philosophy for the dishonest and dimwitted. But that doesn’t mean their skewed logic is not tempting.

For instance, Kennedy also believes vaccines cause autism due to a well-known fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc. “After this, therefore because of this.” Jimmy got vaccinated, Jimmy got autism. Hence, the vaccine caused the autism. That could just as easily explain Jimmy getting hit by a bus.

It’s a tempting trap —before I got sick, I’d just visited Ohio, whose COVID vaccination rate is 60%. Illinois’ is 70%. Ergo, Ohio must have given me COVID. In reality, it could have been the lunch crowd at RL Restaurant.

The bad news is, being lost in fantasy is no longer reason to hustle a would-be leader from the public stage and toward professional help. Trump did not do this to us, and the joyful day he is finally put into a cage somewhere will only mean the next wannabe — RFK Jr., Ron DeSantis, whomever — will already be beavering away to take his place.

Unless we want to live in a country ruled by fools, we ought to keep our eyes on the pole star of reality. It isn’t always pretty. But at least it’s really there.

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