I think RFK, Jr. would be a poor choice for the EPA or Department of the Interior (posts he is rumored to be under consideration for), but I’m not nearly as worked up as many of my fellow bloggers are.
In his favor, Kennedy has a reputation as a staunch defender of wild places, and an opponent of reckless development and of industrial pollution. Coupled with his unquestionable media savvy and name recognition, he would seem like a perfect choice.
The problem is, he got suckered by the anti-vaccination activists pushing the bogus and utterly discredited autism-thimerosal link. There’s no doubt that environmental mercury is a dangerous pollutant, and Kennedy has been great in taking on polluters, and educating consumers about the risks they face from contaminated fish, water, and air. But he uncritically accepted the claim that the mercury in thimerosal is as risky as the mercury released from smokestacks, and it simply isn’t. He didn’t do his job as a consumer of information, and utterly failed the public in repeating and pressing these claims.
I do think that this uncritical approach to that issue should disqualify him from such a cabinet-level position, especially coupled with his lack of experience administering a government agency. He would be better suited for something like Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources. He’s worked as a prosecutor before, and that would give him a position to pursue the sorts of environmental crimes he’s worked to clean up as a private citizen, and to enforce laws and consent decrees his work helped create. It would also keep him far away from scientific decision-making, while giving him a clear platform from which to develop his plans for an eventual Senate run in New York.
Then, when Hillary Clinton is appointed to the Supreme Court, he can take her seat. Other Supreme Court nominees I’d like to see: Cass Sunstein, Lawrence Lessig, and all the names floated by the ABA. And yes, I endorse Brad Delong’s court-packing plan, which would leave room for all of those names in the course of an Obama presidency. Is it punitive? Yes. But that’s what you get when you win a genuine mandate. It would be over-reach if the proposal were for a permanent increase in the size of the court, though the Court’s increasing workload makes that idea attractive on non-partisan grounds. Perhaps some sort of deal could be reached whereby the size of the court would increase in five years (allowing the possibility of Republican nominees should things go sour by the next election), then again in another 5 years. Or raise the size of the Court to 15, and let Senate Republicans present President Obama with a slate of several dozen nominees from whom to select one or two of the six new justices (elections have consequences).