June 28th, 2010

Robert Byrd dies at 92

Robert Byrd of West Virginia has died at the age of 92. Most of the articles about his death point out two of his most salient characteristics: he was the longest-serving senator in American history, and in his early days he was a member of the KKK.

Actually, those two things are not unrelated. Byrd was a Democrat elected to the Senate for the first time in 1958 who served continuously till now. Just contemplate that for a moment; Eisenhower was president back then. In those days, the South was still solidly Democratic, and nearly as solidly anti-civil rights for blacks (in fact, Byrd famously filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Byrd was not at all unusual for his times; his more distinguishing factor was that his career far outlived those times and he went along with the changes.

In later life Byrd repudiated his earlier views on race. On other topics, with a couple of exceptions, he pretty much voted the Democratic Party line during his career. He supported Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency, was an early opponent of the Iraq War, and was most notable as a rules and parliamentarian expert and a funneler of funds to his state, as well as for his personal and political longevity. Retirement was not in the cards for Byrd, no matter how old or infirm he became; he died, as it were, in the saddle. In a system in which seniority is very important, Byrd was king as the most senior senior of them all.

I have nothing more to add, except RIP and condolences to the family. Byrd’s death will not change the composition of the Senate politically, since the Democrat Governor of West Virginia will appoint his successor until the next election in 2012 (see this for some of the finer points of that process).

18 Responses to “Robert Byrd dies at 92”

  1. Curtis Says:

    AP – Robert C. Byrd, who rose from the poverty of West Virginia coal country to become the sage and conscience of U.S. Senate in a political career stretching more than half a century, died Monday. He was 92.


  2. Baklava Says:

    It changes the Senate this year instead of 2012 maybe.

    Of course Democrats like to change the rules in the middle of the ball game.

    GOAL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. OlderandWheezier Says:

    Perhaps it’s a point in his favor that in all his years of service, it seems that the same few (and some obsolete) negatives surface in critiques of Byrd. I feel that he almost always behaved in a more gentlemanly manner than senate and house members do now. Condolences to his loved ones and to the people of West Virginia.

  4. Colin Says:

    Regarding this not changing the composition of the senate…Althouse is claiming that under an oddity in WV law, due to the timing of the death, that the Governor is only empowered to appoint an interim Senator, with a special election in November.



  5. Gringo Says:

    Two pictures come to mind. First picture: President Bush helping Senator Byrd walk to somewhere on the Senate floor. Second picture: at the end of the Beer Summit, the “racist cop” Crowley was assisting Professor Gates walk along, while President Obama strolled on ahead of them.
    Guess the POTUS missed himself a photo-op.(My snarky assumption being that a photo-op would be the only context in which he would consider assisting an elderly person walk somewhere.)

  6. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    A triva question for OlderandWheezier:

    Q: Who is the most recent seated Senator to drop the n-bomb on the floor of the Senate?

    A: Robert Byrd.

  7. Gringo Says:

    Colin: The West Virginia law you linked to states that there will be an interim election if there are more than two years and six months between the death of the incumbent Senator and the expiration of the term.

    As Byrd’s end of term would have been January 20,2013, Althouse would appear to be correct. Look for the Dems to change the law, just like they did for Ted in Massachusetts- changed it twice in four years! I fear that Baklava is correct.

  8. gcotharn Says:

    Senator Byrd was human. He was good for our nation in some ways; he was horrifying for our nation in other ways. I honor his humanity, his noble actions, his service. Our nation could have done much worse than having Sen Byrd in office, and has.


    Separate from Sen Byrd, I address a sequence of media and blog reaction:

    - Civil Rights Act of 1964 passes with heavy Republican support and vehement opposition from sections of the Democratic Party

    - in ensuing decades, media and left rewrite history to make passage of Civil Rights Act into a great victory by virtuous Democrats. Their storyline: those 1964 Dems who were racist subsequently joined the Repub Party. This had NOTHING to do w/Democrat Party’s speeding sprint to the left, and was 100% about racism! Southern Strategy!!!

    - the right, resenting the politically successful rewrite of history by the MSM and the left, occasionally and bitterly points to the racist history of the Democrat Party, up to and including the 1964 Civil Rights Act vote. Thus, when Sen Byrd dies, the right bitterly demands the MSM and the left stop the deification, and squarely address Sen Byrd’s unquestionable racist past as an aspect of his history and his impact in America.

    - the MSM and left – their eyes focused on the prize, i.e. power and leftward movement of America – counter with what they know is a lie about Sen Byrd: his racism was youthful indiscretion! he was recruited into the KKK in his 20s! MSM and left do not care that this is a lie. They know Sen Byrd filibustered the Civil Rights Act when he was 45 years old. They know Sen Byrd’s racism was no youthful indiscretion. The MSM and the left do not care. They are lying in service of their political goals, and they consider such lying to be virtuous: they are lying for our sake! for our own good! They are gol-danged martyrs to the cause of helping the rest of us via lying to us!


    Last thing:

    At left blogs, I have engaged in several comment section arguments in which I defended right side figures against charges of racist conduct. The charges, in each case, were based upon micro heft of evidence, and were based upon wrenching the meaning of the statement away from the meaning which the original author or speaker intended.

    Amongst commenters/bloggers who were willing to engage beyond mere ad hominem, their reasoning commonly flowed into two eventual intellectual forts:

    1. b/c truth is subjective, therefore we are justified in asserting “our truth”, i.e. we are justified in accusing anyone of anything.

    Here’s how to breach the wall of this fort:

    A blogger has the legal right to accuse without evidence, yet the blogger is not morally justified in failing to treat other human beings with equanimity, i.e. the blogger is not morally justified in failing to follow the virtually universal religious/philosophical injunction which is variously known as Ethic of Reciprocity, Golden Rule, Silver Rule, et al. No human being wants to be done unto via having micro heft of evidence used as excuse to target them for accusation.

    When you breach that the outer wall of fort #1, the blogger will often take refuge in an inner fort which is represented by the “Critical Studies” argument which is common in universities:

    Fort #2: Racism is not that bad! We are all racists! I do not claim that racism is a terrible thing, and if you imply that I do then you are reading things in which are not there! Therefore, since I do not imply that Racism is a terrible thing, since I claim racism is a mundane and every day thing, therefore I am not violating any moral injunction, I am not violating the Ethic of Reciprocity/Golden Rule/Silver Rule.

    Bringing this Critical Studies argument around to today’s news:
    I actually agree that racism is often a mundane and human thing. I know racists – both overt and covert. That a person is racist does not disqualify them from having my full love and affection. They are human, and they hold an opinion with which I disagree. Their sin is not special; is not any worse than the myriad sins I am in the midst of committing this very day. I believe all of them would give their lives in effort to, for instance, save a black child from drowning. That’s good enough for me.

    However, at this time, our societal conversation considers racism a sin which is beyond mundane. Therefore, accusation of racism in our society is a big deal. It’s hard to think of any allegation which is more publicly damaging. Therefore, the personal principles and convictions of the Critical Studies arguers do not matter. When the Critical Studies arguers make public accusation, they are speaking into the public’s listening, and they are making extreme damning accusation.

    And they know it. And MSM and left blog reaction to right blog citation of Sen. Byrd’s former racism is evidence that they know it. MSM and left blog blatant lies about Sen Byrd’s supposed-but-not-really-youthful-indiscretion amount to refutation of the Critical Studies argument that public accusation of racism is not that bad of a thing!

  9. gcotharn Says:

    Something else — when someone such as Sen Byrd is racist, and their racial opinion is an integral component of their self image, and they later change their mind and refute their former opinion: thats a very big deal and is very admirable. I have tremendous admiration for Sen Byrd’s journey in this area. Kudos.

  10. neo-neocon Says:

    Colin and Gringo: In my post, I linked to this article about the method for choosing Byrd’s replacement. It is still quite unclear whether the special election would be held in 2010 or 2012. But the Democratic governor of W. Virginia will appoint an interim replacement till then.

  11. Curtis Says:

    He voted for Obama. He was a pork barrel specialist. His “change” most likely was not inner but opportunistic.

    Nonetheless, he was not a part of the anchorless and clueless haters of the United States.

  12. gcotharn Says:

    Another something else re MSM reportage:

    I’ve seen, at least two places, a description of Senator Byrd as a “conservative Democrat”.

    It’s not true, and it is true. Senator Byrd was not conservative vis a vis small government principles. Yet, amongst Democrat Senators as a population, Senator Byrd was on the conservative edge of the group.

    Over the decades, many southern Dem voters who shared Sen Byrd’s relative conservative views shifted parties and began voting Repub. I argue that the very descrip of Sen Byrd as a conservative Democrat amounts to a refutation of the MSM and left argument that the Republicanization of the South is largely about racism. It is not. It is about conservative principles and values.

    Dems don’t get to have it both ways: the evolution of the Repub South does not get to strictly or largely be about racism even as former racist Sen Byrd is described as a conservative Democrat.

  13. SteveH Says:

    “”I have tremendous admiration for Sen Byrd’s journey in this area. Kudos.”"

    He journeyed from saying he disliked Blacks to proving he disliked Blacks. You don’t help destroy the Black family and enslave them to the government because you care about them.

  14. Michael Says:

    I’d been thinking, over the past few weeks, how the Leftists like to say that “Conservative Democrats” in the South opposed integration and Civil Rights legislation. This is simply not true. Senator Fulbright, Senator Gore(Sr.), Senator Ervin, and probably more, when I turn over more rocks, voted with FDR and LBJ, for every socialist usurpation proposed. Some of their segregationist fervor was mere opportunism. Remember, the South was not segregated until Redemption (Sounds like something religious, but did not bother to make such a claim.) came to power in 1890-92. Redemption made a Devil’s bargain with the poorest white and Black Southerners: In exchange for election laws that would result in their being disenfranchised, Redemption promised to clean up political corruption. It also promised poor Whites protection from their economic competitors, Blacks.
    As a young nurse, I cared for numerous elderly people born in the 1880′s a few even in the 1870′s, whose racial attitudes were complex, but usually not bigoted nor hateful. Most of the next generation, born after 1890, were intransigent in their hatred of Blacks, and then, about 1915-20, a new generation arose who included a lot of folks who cautiously tip toed across the color line. There were some, and this might have included Senator Byrd, who followed the last generation’s line. Or, he could have simply been another opportunist. I observed an interesting phenomenon, in those born across those two periods, that the most bigoted were the most constipated. No, not the obvious. Rather, if a man’s or woman’s mother could afford a laundress, she toilet trained later, leading to less obsession with bowel movements, later in life. If she had to boil those diapers in her own back yard, she potty trained at the earliest possible moment.
    Those who had grown up with a Black person around, who made life much more comfortable, and had feared no competition from Blacks, had much friendlier racial attitudes.

  15. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    1958, the year of Byrd’s election, was the great sea-change in establishing a near-permanent Democratic majority in both houses from that time to this. The swing was huge: Democrats added 16 Senate seats and 49 House seats. Unemployment had briefly risen from 4% to 7%, though wages and inflation were stable, and the Russians launched Sputnik, panicking Americans into thinking the gov’t just wasn’t doing enough.

    We got Gene McCarthy and Ed Muskie out of that election as well. Before you roll your eyes, consider that we would be thrilled to have Democrats as reasonable as that now.

  16. Gringo Says:

    Michael, thanks for your informative comments. As a North/South hybrid raised in the North during the Civil Rights era, I was ashamed of the Jim Crow attitude of some of my Southern-based elders such as my grandmother. When I later moved to TX, I discovered that the picture was more complex than I had assumed from my vantage point in the North. (I had observed enough from my childhood to know that the South had no monopoly on racism.). An elderly cousin, born circa 1910 in rural TX, told of an example from her childhood where a black was accused of raping a white woman. It was determined that he was innocent, and he was freed. In her 70s this same cousin attended the funeral of a black whom she had worked with.

    Both Strom Thurmond and George Wallace were racial moderates in their early years. As a judge, George Wallace had the reputation of being fair to all races. As Governor of South Carolina, Strom arrested those responsible for lynching and murdering a black man. Both George and Strom were opportunists who became race-baiters to advance their political careers, and stopped race baiting when they decided that race-baiting hurt their political careers.

    The Myth of the Racist Republicans points out, among other things, that the first inroads the Republicans made in the South were in the Upper South in areas that had migrants from the North.. Highly recommended.

  17. Michael Adams Says:

    For people of my generation (b.1950 it ought to be pretty easy to see that there is not such a contradiction in Byrd’s (et al) attitudes. These politicians sold themselves to the ignorant, Black or White, as protectors from real and invented dangers, whether these threats were another racial group, Capitalists, the ‘Religious Right’ or whatever. I suppose that some used Communists as a convenient scapegoat, although the Venona decripts and other documents would indicate that that danger was far more real. It’s funny, in a sick sort of way, that these same people accused President Bush [whom may God save!] of using the Islamist threat in the same way. That threat, too, is independently confirmed. Projection?
    As for actual racism, in the South it has been such a class thing. There were the four percent of wealthier Southerners who made use of Black people, who might have been mildly condescending, but hating? No more than you’d hate your microwave oven. Poor Whites, on the other hand, resented the competition, first with slaves, and later with lower wage workers. In this century, people who studied in school, finished high school and went on to university, learned the scientific facts about the lack of racial differences, and, best of all, got jobs much better than most Blacks would get. The Black people who made it to college were coworkers and (usually) friendly competitors. We have little motivation for racism, so it is no virtue that we are not racist.
    So, I despise Byrd for being the sleazy politician that he was, but recognize that his racism was a product of the poverty of his early life. I could no more look down on him for that than I could a hungry man who steals food.
    Armed robbery is an individual transgression, but we still look for sociological causes. Racism, an obvious societal problem, we make an individual sin. Byrd was a racist when racism was useful, and a “Liberal” when that would get him votes, and an anti-racist when that came into vogue. It’s not the sheets. It’s the sleaze.

  18. Michael Adams Says:

    Oh, yeah, what Steve H said.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


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