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 The Heyday of Kennedyism 

January 12, 2006 
I’m not sure if I ever actually met Sam Alito at Princeton. It’s hard to recognize a guy when the last time you saw him he was wearing a sheet.

Just kidding! Today's column is "The Heyday of Kennedyism" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.Strike that remark from the record!

I wasn’t an alumnus, but I used to live near Princeton and I hung out with several friends in the offices of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a rather ineffectual conservative outfit now exposed by Ted Kennedy as a “reprehensible group.” Well, Ted himself was born into a reprehensible group, which he has never repudiated, namely, the Kennedy family. The real scandal is that they have never repudiated him, either. In that flock, the black sheep is the bellwether.

Joe Stalin and Mao Zedong used to hold the record for unconscious irony, but by now I think Ted has broken it. A full generation after Chappaquiddick, he’s still expressing shock over other people’s pasts. Dwelling in a glass house, he has made a career of throwing bricks, which his colleagues are too polite to toss back at him. Unlike Joe McCarthy, he has always made wild charges with complete impunity. Can’t someone at least give him a breathalyzer test?

The “heyday of McCarthyism” lasted only five years. The heyday of Kennedyism, still active, is nearly two decades old, if you date it from his 1987 smear of Robert Bork. But it’s really much older, because Kennedyism didn’t start with Ted. Freestyle accusations of bigotry against political opponents have been a hallowed liberal tradition since the era of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

Judge Alito, it must be said, failed to prove he wasn’t a bigot; but then, nobody can prove he isn’t a bigot to liberals’ satisfaction. That’s the whole idea of bigotry charges: they are meant to be unfalsifiable, like Soviet charges of “anti-Soviet activities.” Once you are accused, you’ve already been convicted. There are few acquittals.

[Breaker quote for The Heyday of Kennedyism: We're still in it.]Since the charges can’t be disproved, there is no penalty for making false accusations. The burden of proof is on the accused, not the accuser, and besides, the charges are never really defined, so how could they be refuted anyway? If somebody accuses you of murder, he has to produce a corpse, for openers. But if he accuses you of “sexism” or “homophobia,” nobody is even quite sure what he means, except maybe that he doesn’t like your political opinions and wants to stigmatize you.

Such charges — sexism, homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and the generic all-purpose hate and bigotry — are what the British philosopher Gilbert Ryle called “bogus predicates.” They sound as if they mean something, but they have no specifiable content. The listener is invited to fill them out with his own emotional associations. Murder implies that someone has killed someone else. What does bigotry imply?

If liberals were honest, they’d define their words precisely enough that we could meaningfully distinguish between true and false charges, and they’d censure those who made false charges. When McCarthy spoke of “card-carrying Communists,” he made the ultimately fatal mistake of making meaningful charges; and when he couldn’t back them up, he was ruined.

That’s the difference between the brief McCarthy era and the too-long Kennedy era. Can you even imagine liberal opinion demanding that Ted Kennedy put up or shut up? The U.S. Senate virtually censured McCarthy. Kennedy can rail on with the full assurance that his colleagues will never do that to him, even with a Republican majority.

Kennedy’s abysmal personal character inspired one wag to quip that “his religion is so private he won’t even impose it on himself.” He has every reason to invent synthetic ideological sins to divert attention from his own concrete moral deficiencies, which might be gently described as contemptible. No wonder he makes it his pastime to savage other men’s reputations, as if making them look bad could make him look good.

Even now Ted is allowed by his party to wear the ill-fitting courtesy halo he supposedly inherited from his murdered brothers. He is still allowed to pose as a spokesman for women, minorities, the poor, civil liberties, and all the other sacred progressive causes.

There’s not much point in dwelling on the irony of all this; it ceased being funny a long time ago. He’s the aging superstar in a sport whose only object is to commit fouls against the other side.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2006 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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