The death of Robert Byrd
Robert Byrd was more than an institution in the Senate. He was the embodiment of everything that is wrong with American politics.
His career was birthed in the racism of the Old South, first as a member of the Ku Klux Klan where his leadership abilities were put to use as a recruiter and a leader of that evil organization. Away from the organization, he remained a racist and a segregationist when he launched his political career. It was only when he began climbing the political ladder in Washington D.C. and his base of support had to be more national did he suddenly find a change of heart, supposedly the result of membership in a Baptist church.
Some years later, a revealing interview caught the old Senator referring to the characteristics of different “niggers,” a rant that would have ended the careers of most public men. By then, the Democratic Senator was too powerful, although he would never be the Senate Majority Leader again despite his seniority.
His hold on power in West Virginia is best explained by the power of the federal purse abused with almost no limit. Byrd’s state was a federal dollar black hole, much to the aggrandizement of a still-living senator. Monument after monument of federal excess named in his honor can be seen across the state, from bridges to highways to government buildings to relocated federal agencies, all to keep one Senator in power.
His major achievement was longevity, not in the pursuit of public service, but in the pursuit of power. His death reminds us no matter how powerful our existence is in this world, no man can escape his end. Did someone ever whisper in Byrd’s ear, “Memento mori?”
The question now before the governor of West Virginia is whether he should declare Byrd’s seat vacant now and have a special election this November, or wait until after the holiday so the next election would be in 2012. That even Byrd’s death would involve possible arcane rule manipulations for partisan politics would probably have pleased the man.
Senator Robert Byrd was 92 years old.