One day in 1973, in his squeaky, pickled-vocal-chords baritone Ted Kennedy filled the Senate chamber with these words: “Do we operate under a system of equal justice under law? Or is there one system for the average citizen and another for the high and mighty?” His intent was rhetorical, because the answer was, and always has been, obvious: of course there are two classes, low and high. And no other modern politician took advantage of this fact more than did the mighty “lion of the senate.”
Here is his tale, which is one of woe, but cushioned throughout by the fact that the mighty are not allowed to fail.
He was a princeling in the House of Kennedy, a prominent and permanent institution of the Massachusetts aristocracy, when, at age thirty, his brother, who was then ascending to the crown, gifted his Senate seat to the young Tedward. It was clear to all that the young prince would not have won this position solely on his own merits—indeed, in spite of his demerits—that he cheated at his alma mater mattered not, for example. But he could, and did, point to his royal blood.
Not long after, when he was thirty-seven, came a drunken midnight drive on Chappaquiddick Island. He crashed and left his passenger for dead. Worse, he abandoned the scene, went home, called his lawyer, and slept off whatever guilt and ethanol he could. But this did not destroy the man. The aristocracy rose as one and made the problem go away.
Much later, as brothers will, he began to envy his dead sibling and sought to mimic his better’s example and so seek the kingly office. When asked, “Why should thou be anointed?”, his answer, “I am Kennedy”, satisfied few, except those ensconced in his fiefdom. He did not win. But he was not allowed to fail and he retained his seat.
Forlorn at his bitter defeat, he embraced strongly his vices. He drank to excess and often. He took and spent other people’s money liberally. He told lies about opponents in open session. He chased, cornered, caught, and copulated with women aplenty; one famous dalliance was conducted on the floor of restaurant in full view of the commoners. All this was forgiven because he was Kennedy, because he was solid on abortion, because—and only because—he was high and mighty.
Now he is dead, but he will be lauded and remembered fondly, more because of his status than what he has accomplished. For we must recall the tale of the counterfactual: while it true that this man has produced some benefit, just as he has certainly caused much harm, we are forced to ask what better and what different could have been had he, instead of joining the Senate, been farmed out to an ambassadorship in Latvia. These necessary ruminations will not be pleasant to the aristocracy and so they will be ignored.