Chappaquiddick Strips Bare the Liberal Soul

By John Zmirak Published on April 15, 2018

I went to see Chappaquiddick a week late, so pardon this tardy essay. I was sad to see the Dallas theater mostly empty. (If you haven’t seen this powerful, truth-telling movie, get out there and support it.)

Perhaps the film came out too late, and millions of possible viewers barely remember Ted Kennedy. An older generation might recall him when he was still young and numinous. As the last of four tragic brothers, progressives pinned on him their hope to extend a golden moment indefinitely. There was a time in U.S. politics when it seemed that all good causes marched together. First to rebuke brutal Southern sheriffs and cruel arbitrary race laws. Then to give equal rights to women. And then to open the U.S. borders to millions of people too long excluded. Then to outlaw poverty with a stroke of the president’s pen. And then to repeal laws that punished homosexuals. 

Never Enough

Progressives didn’t stop progressing once they blew past the Golden Mean. Of course they would get rid of laws that discriminated by race. But they would go further, and forbid even private discrimination by sex. That meant that companies that used to pay a “family wage” to married men with children no longer could. No private employer could choose to give a man a raise because of his growing family. That discriminated against single men and women. So women would march out to work and the birthrate would plummet, but that was “good for the planet.” On race, the progressives would impose “affirmative action,” which is nothing else than reverse discrimination. Soon they would offer it even to amnestied illegal immigrants.

Abortion was always only and ever a means of making women more disposable.

On sex, they wouldn’t just offer women and men equal legal rights. They’d impose a system of quotas, just as they had on race. And where there are simply radical, irreducible distinctions between the sexes? They’d pretend they didn’t exist, or do violence to nature to try to wipe them away. This meant that women needed constant birth control, and legal abortion. That way, they could seem as free from the consequences of promiscuity as men have always been.

As Phyllis Schlafly warned us (and got dismissed for it as a crank) every real sex difference would eventually be ignored. We would end up with women in combat, and standards lowered to allow that. There’d be no room for single-sex bathrooms, as now there isn’t thanks to “transgender” ideology. Wherever that reigns, even one’s sex itself is not a biological fact of divine creation. It’s a shifting whim of the mind. What sex do you identify as today? It’s entirely up to you!

On immigration, where Ted Kennedy authored the massive, transformative 1965 revision, progressives now expect us to give up borders entirely. We must give illegal immigrants drivers’ licenses, benefits, immunity to deportation, and slack when they commit identity theft. Nor may we expect them ever to assimilate. And we’ve no right to build a wall or otherwise try to enforce our existing laws. We’ve “progressed” too far for that.

Defanging the Gospel

In the Catholic church, some of the same people who led in these social movements also worked to “purify” Christianity. They would strip out restrictive and arbitrary man-made rules, and get down to just the Gospel. Or so they said. But they quickly ran up on the rocks of solid, doctrinal truths that man never made, but God revealed. That didn’t stop them. The sisters who threw off their habits (and adopted new, wicked ones) and the priests who tossed doctrine aside in favor of leftist politics are still gnawing their old fever dream. Pope Francis’ subtle attacks on Catholic tradition and teaching? Those are scraps meaty enough to keep them hoping, hoping, hoping. But they want to be sure. The old religion isn’t true. (Is it?) It can’t be. (Can it?)

This spokesman for women’s rights had left his friend, Mary Jo Kopechne, to slowly suffocate. As the film shows, he used the hours when she was still alive and fighting for air consulting his friends about the politics of the accident.

Its logic and its mysteries had once appealed to them, but also confined their lifestyles and saddled them with guilt. Now they’d found a new and updated Christianity, which suited their personal choices. It might be incoherent, but goshdarn, wasn’t it friendly? The only way to be certain, though, that it wasn’t just some worldly, man-made farce: To see the old religion completely disappear. To drive out the traditionalists and the moralists, the pessimists and the prudes. Then close down their orders, which weirdly kept getting vocations. And stop the churches from offering old-fashioned, reverent services, which kept attracting young people. And finally, to elect a pope who’d discredit the very authority on which the old religion rested.

How? By reversing fundamental Church teachings. (On marriage, on sex, on hell, on anything and everything if possible.) That explains why today’s liberal Catholics seem so eager to goad Pope Francis on to ever new outrages. They’re hoping that he will finally, finally blow up the credibility of the faith of their ancestors. That he’ll at last drive a stake through the Sacred Heart. Then maybe it will stop haunting them.

Waiting for Roe v. Wade 

The Kennedys were in on this movement early on. Way back in 1964, long before Roe v. Wade was a gleam in Hugh Hefner’s eye, the Kennedy family proved it. They gathered elite, liberal Jesuits at their posh compound in Hyannisport. The goal? To work out rationalizations for Catholics who wanted to legalize abortion. So pardon me for not being shocked that five years later, a team of Kennedy fixers would gather to help in the Chappaquiddick cover up. Abortion was always only and ever a means of making women more disposable. That’s why its greatest advocate in history was the Marquis de Sade.

I’m of the generation that remembers Ted Kennedy not as a young, hopeful figure from a blighted dynasty. I knew him first as a puffy red-nosed blowhard, the Lecher of the Senate. Part of my contempt for him derived from what I knew about Chappaquiddick. This spokesman for women’s rights had left his friend, Mary Jo Kopechne, to slowly suffocate. As the film shows, he used the hours when she was still alive and fighting for air consulting his friends about the politics of the accident. He spent the next weeks manipulating her parents, and then public opinion, with a team of the sharpest, most cynical political operatives in America.

How far the Progressive dream fell, and how quickly! How squalid it all turned out to be.

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Be Careful What You Ask For

That’s not because it failed, but because it succeeded. Virtually every demand of the most unhinged leftist activist in the 1960s has been met, or in fact exceeded. (Except for full-on communism, but few really cared about workers, anyway.) And the old, sagging figure of Ted Kennedy gave flesh to the liberal dream. He is what it produces. By severing rights from responsibilities, and liberty from order, it doesn’t generate the New Man, free and happy. Or a new society, vibrant and equal. All it does is feed into our vices, make virtues seem useless, and teach us that when reality frustrates our desires we should go and throw a tantrum. Liberal politics and religion haven’t made us “like gods,” as Satan promised. It made of us middle-aged babies, with grown-up sins and muddy diapers we want the Nanny State to change.

That was true of Teddy, and that fact emerged in time of crisis. His faction rallied behind him, to hide the truth about Chappaquiddick. What they were really hiding was much, much deeper: The kind of person liberal politics produces by the millions.  

No wonder many Americans don’t want to see this movie. It’s too much like a mirror.

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