Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Senator Robert Byrd

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.


  1. I can't respect someone who was so disrespectful of our military, fiscal responsibility, and racial equality.
    Just can't do it...
    I'm not glad he's passed on, but I am glad he's out of government.

  2. Jennifer, I'd be interested in your specific examples on his disrespect of the military. I saw some stuff on his opposition to the Iraq War, but nothing approaching a John Murtha-esque hate and disrespect of the military. I can agree with your reservations about him on fiscal responsibility and racial issues. The point I was trying to make (and apparently failing at) is that, at least from what I've seen, a lot of conservatives dismiss him on a knee jerk basis without taking the time to look at the man as a whole. He had qualities I don't like, that I disagree with and even disrespect; however, that is not the whole story. He had other qualities that I do agree with, and he even "repented" of some of his "past sins" to use the Christian vernacular. Do we not owe him some measure of forgiveness? I'm sure there are those out there who do not respect me for my past. I only hope they can look past my past to see me for the whole I have become before rendering judgment. Now that I'm thinking it through further, I may have to revise this one to include some of these thoughts.

  3. While his WV constituents liked the money, and probably didn't care about his racism, I do. I'm white, and grew up in a white community.

    I'll dig up the military stuff if you'll dig up his apologies for his KKK affiliation..

    sorry, dude.. respect ya, but have to disagree with you here.. I can't respect somebody with that public of a record..

  4. Jennifer, you are encouraged to disagree with me. It keeps me honest. Besides, I'd hate to live in a world where I was right all the time. I'd get bored.

    The following link has the race relations and KKK apology info you asked for: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Byrd#Race_and_race_relations

    It even mentions that the NAACP gave him a 100% approval rating for his positions in 2003-2004 Congressional year.

    I, too, am white and grew up in a white community, and I hope I've made my views on fiscal responsibility and discrimination clear by now. I even have a grandfather who was probably standing next to Byrd during his Klan days much to my perpetual shame.

    Again, the point I seem to have missed making clearly is that we are all the sum total of who we are and have been. Some of it's pretty. Some not so much.

    I don't agree with, respect or condone everything Sen. Byrd did in his life or political career, but there were aspects of his life that were worthy of respect and even admiration (I'm thinking of his humble beginnings and faithfulness to his wife in particular here).

    I even respect my own grandfather for some of the things I learned from him even though I can't stand to be in his presence most of the time.

  5. I understand totally the respect given to someone for their longevity and position in life even while not respecting their individual opinions and actions. I too have grandparents that I cannot share space with but respect for the collective experience they have and the fact that there are aspects of their personalities that I may never know because I've not known them their whole lives. I think it's important for me to say that I know nothing about Sen. Byrd and can make no opinion about him, but anyone who stayed in public office that long does, in my opinion, deserve some acknowledgement.

  6. Mel, I like that word - acknowledgment. I think that it is part of what I was trying to convey. You can acknowledge an achievement even if you don't necessarily agree with or even accepting it.

  7. Well I was going to be your 11T eth follower, But there seems to be something amiss with the google friend connect whatchamacallit....

    But I will be back later...

  8. Mr. Daddy, welcome to the party. I don't think your slot as number 11 is in jeopardy anytime soon. I look forward to seeing your input in the comments.

  9. Hi Kevin. I have been checking out your blog today for the first time...very interesting stuff, my friend. As for Senator Byrd, your thoughts on him were spot on in my opinion. There are obviously things in his past that are not praiseworthy, but there are others to be admired. We all (I in particular) have moments and choices in our lives that we, upon reflections, wish we could take back. I believe it's more important how we finish our race (no pun intended)in life than how we started it. Thank you for your comments. -- Wade Brown

  10. Wade, no. Thank you for your comments. I've come to enjoy the discussion that arises from blogging. Comments are what make it worthwhile for me. It also forces you to really think through your opinions and biases when they are laid out bare before you in black and white. Or white and black as the case may be.


I am not easily offended. Please feel free to express your opinions: good, bad or indifferent. Basically, the "Golden Rule" applies. You get what you give. Treat others like trash here, and your comments will be trashed accordingly. Rudeness and vulgarity will not be tolerated.