Senator Edward Kennedy was, and will remain, an outstanding example of a champagne socialist. Sociologically speaking, the type has been well recognized for quite some time. Indeed, in Turgenev’s great novel, Fathers and Sons, the hero Bazarov asks at one point if you can’t drink champagne just because you call yourself a socialist. The French similarly talk about those who vote on the Left but dine on the Right. Such people are exploiting their privileged position in society to curry favor with those less privileged, and so find the way to continue being privileged while also being applauded for it. Clever, or what?
The obituaries for Edward Kennedy have been more or less unmitigated eulogies. The general inference is that he was an outstanding and constructive politician with vast achievements to his credit. At most, there is an apologetic little insertion somewhere of the word “flawed” as though that excused and explained his failure to become president. In simple fact, he owed everything in his career, especially his position in the Senate, to the fact that he had been born who he was, too well-connected and too rich ever to have to work his passage on his own. If this isn’t privilege, what is? The years of good living and self-indulgence showed in his face, as once handsome features turned coarse and bloated. Physically, he could only waddle. As for morals, Chappaquiddick is only one incident among others when his behaviour proves him to have been a man of bad character.
Normally speaking, ordinary people would never tolerate someone like him as their elected representative. To present himself as a tribune of the people was the only possible protective covering available to him. That he was successful in this respect, and comes to be buried in Arlington with the president speaking at the graveside, is really the only arresting feature of his career. He has enjoyed the sort of lifelong allowance that once would have been made for a corrupt eighteenth-century English duke. It is hard to believe that he was ever sincere in the populist causes he took up, declaiming about righting wrongs only to go home and commit plenty more wrongs of his own without having to account for them. That’s champagne socialism for you, and it seems a taste everybody and anybody can get drunk on.