That is, he was a man who failed to fulfil his huge potential because of a literally fatal flaw.
That flaw – sadly not an uncommon one in British politics – was his addiction to alcohol. It was tragic not only for him and his family but for his party. Arguably, for all of us.
But for Kennedy’s drink problem, the last government would not have been a coalition one. It is simply inconceivable that Kennedy would have made the mistake Nick Clegg made in shackling the LibDems to the role of junior partner in an unhappy liaison.
He might – probably would – have led the party in supporting a minority Tory government on a vote-by-vote basis. That is, picking those issues on which he was prepared to back them. And thereby wielding much stronger influence on those on which he was not.
And since he was a man of rare decency, intelligence and insight, he would have chosen those issues well. One can hardly imagine a greater contrast to the mess the well-meaning Clegg got himself and his party into.
Clegg said, and presumably believed, that he had no choice but to team up with the Tories “in the national interest”. Kennedy seems to have been the only leading LibDem who knew better.
Clegg made two fundamental errors. Both were shared by Ed Miliband, to his own ultimate downfall. And, on the evidence of last month’s election, by the country at large.
The first was to believe the prevailing nonsense about the need for “austerity”.
This false doctrine, currently prevailing around the world, is a great driver of inequality. It is a device by which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Whether or not this is actually its purpose, it is unarguably its effect, both within countries and between them.
The second – related – error was to believe in the need for “strong, stable” government.
Governments don’t need to be strong. In fact, unless you’re a fundamentalist – whether of the Islamist, Fascist, Communist, Capitalist or any other variety – strong is exactly what governments don’t need to be.
Vladimir Putin is strong. Benjamin Netanyahu and Robert Mugabe are strong. Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin, Mao Zedong, Saddam Hussein, George W Bush… they were all strong.
Good governments don’t dictate. They muddle through.
They aren’t stable. It’s their instability that keeps them honest, and in touch with their voters.
They arrive at decisions by negotiated compromise between parties with different interests. Not by one minority party (which is what the Conservatives are, despite all the blue on the post-electoral map) wielding its power over all the others. And not by a “coalition” in which one party dominates, and ultimately destroys, another.
There is no precise telling, of course, where the LibDems, or the country, would be today had Charles Kennedy been a moderate drinker. But it would surely have been a better place than the one we’re in.
I said those two mistakes Clegg and Miliband made, and Kennedy would have avoided, were related. Here’s how.
The two countries where inequality has risen most over the past 20 years are two which have a first-past-the-post electoral system. A system allegedly designed to produce “strong, stable” government. In both countries the gap between rich and poor has gone on growing inexorably whichever of the two main parties has been in power.
Those countries are the United States and the United Kingdom.