I thought I’d take a moment this morning and share some thoughts I’ve been mulling over about the passing of Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia. I know that is old news by internet standards; however, when it comes to serious material, I prefer to take a more measured and considered approach rather than an off the cuff, knee jerk reaction. Besides, whether you agree with his politics or not, he was family to someone and being blatantly disrespectful to him (or anyone else for that matter) after he is gone, in some cases without even taking the time to study the man’s life and work, is a little like peeing on his grave…at the funeral…in front of his kids. That just ain’t right in my book.
There are many things you have to give Senator Byrd credit for, and perhaps even respect him for, whether you agree with his views or not. First, he was the longest serving senator and longest serving congressman in U.S. History. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1952 and the Senate in 1959. For those of you how don’t like math, he spent just short of 51 years in the Senate and another 7 in the House. While you could make an argument that he was a living example of the need for term limits, the people of West Virginia must have thought he was doing something right to keep bringing him back for almost 60 years.
Politically, Senator Byrd is labeled as a conservative democrat. I, personally, would probably label him a populist or, if we are to use the strictly linear outlook of political leanings currently in vogue with the media, a moderate. Looking at his voting record, you will find some surprising positions especially against the backdrop of the current crop of ultra liberals running the show in DC. Through his record, you see perhaps the secret to his success. He changed with the times. He appears to have actually represented the values and morals of his constituents. Something we are seeing less and less of as time goes on.
Another area that helps explain his long term success is his record of pork barrel spending. Completely unabashed, unrepentant, no holds barred pork barrel spending. Citizens Against Government Waste called him “The King of Pork” which Senator Byrd apparently considered a high compliment.
One area where I must tip my hat in genuine respect to Senator Byrd is his personal life. Senator Byrd came from humble beginnings and lived, in many respects, the American dream. He was not born to money. He graduated valedictorian of his high school and attended several colleges in West Virginia. He was an intelligent man, but he was no Ivy League elitist either. He married his high school sweetheart when they were both 19 and, by all indications, remained faithful to her until she died in 2006. This man lived the example of family values instead of preaching about them from a lofty position while fornicating with every able bodied and willing accomplice behind the scenes.
You can say what you will about his record on racism. You can argue that he merely said what was necessary to get reelected while keeping his personal beliefs quiet. I really don’t think that argument holds water. West Virginia is the third poorest state per capita and, with a 96% “Non-Hispanic White” population in West Virginia, I think he could have showed up at campaign speeches dressed in his Klan robes if had wanted to and still been elected by a wide margin. However, I personally think he came to understand the error of his early beliefs and learned to dislike people not for the color of their skin but for the evidence of their actions.
Lastly, I don’t think Senator Byrd’s passing will have any impact on the balance of power in Congress all that much. West Virginia is a dyed in the wool democrat state, and I doubt there will be a surprise republican replacement as there was in Massachusetts following Ted Kennedy’s death. The question is whether there will be an “old school” moderate democrat or a “new age” liberal democrat taking his place. Personally, I’m hoping for an “old school” democrat to take his place.