Here is the very definition of the word.
From Byrd’s March 13 speech just before the Iraq war:
“ If the United States leads the charge to war in the Persian Gulf, we may get lucky and achieve a rapid victory. But then we will face a second war: a war to win the peace in Iraq. This war will last many years and will surely cost hundreds of billions of dollars. In light of this enormous task, it would be a great mistake to expect that this will be a replay of the 1991 war. The stakes are much higher in this conflict.
And six days later, after Bush ordered the invasion:
“ Today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned. Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination.
Wonder if the troops in Afghanistan remember all that. Actually, they’re probably too busy fighting on this 263rd day of the ninth year of their war.
Robert Byrd was a man of his times and as the times changed so did he. Byrd experienced and contributed to the entire canvas that was 20th century America.
As a young man he was a member of the Klu Klux Klan and carried his Southern racism into the Senate. In 1964 he voted against the Civil Rights Act. That was Robert Byrd.
But he moved on; he grew with the century and with the country (his attitude toward race parallels a journey taken by my own father).
Here is Robert Byrd’s journey from 1944 to 2003:
||I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side… Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.
|— Robert C. Byrd, in a letter to Sen. Theodore Bilbo (D-MS), 1944, [12
In the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People‘s (NAACP) Congressional Report Card for the 108th Congress (spanning the 2003–2004 congressional session), Byrd was awarded with an approval rating of 100 percent for favoring the NAACP’s position in all 33 bills presented to the United States Senate regarding issues of their concern.
He served way too long in the Senate of course but that guaranteed his place in the history books by virtue of longevity alone.
Byrd was known as the parliamentarian of the Senate, an unofficial title conferred because no one knew the arcane convoluted rules of that body better than he did. And long before Newt Gingrich turned it into a political gimmick, Byrd carried his copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket and consulted it often while on the floor of the Senate.
He gave one of the most honorable speeches of his career in 2003 – a very underreported speech. His voice echoed around a nearly empty chamber as he – a man who’d lived through two world wars – appealed to President Bush to tamp down his zeal for a war of aggression.
He’d overstayed his time certainly and we still need his voice.
The 2003 speech:
Or he can wash my windows. Or vacuum my car. Perhaps I could set him to cleaning out the refrigerator. Humble tasks all. Punishing tasks.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) annoyed every living liberal during the health care negotiations a few weeks back with his astonishing carve out allowing federal largess for Medicaid in Nebraska. Which he eventually abandoned in the face of the universal disgust.
Now he’s doing it again. This time, he backed off his support for the Financial Reform act and took it down in yesterday’s vote. He had been aboard right up until that morning. Seems Ben had a provision in the bill to exempt Nebraska companies – read Warren Buffet, a man I admire – from the new requirements for derivatives. Nelson managed to carve Warren right out of that pesky requirement in the bill as it existed before Monday. But in final committee negotiations, that exemption was removed. So Ben took his ball and went home.
Our Senate is full of grownups.
May I add that even given all that, he’s a hell of a lot more charismatic than Harry Reid. It’s a marvel we get anything done.