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RIP Robert Byrd

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Rest in Peace, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), who died early this morning  at Inova Fairfax Hospital:

“He played a unique role as a prime defender of the Senate during decades of increasing power of the presidency,” said Thomas E. Mann, a congressional scholar and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In his book and on the Senate floor, he was scathing in his contempt for the Bush administration’s doctrine of “preemptive war” and “regime change.” He castigated his fellow lawmakers for swiftly delegating to the president the decision to go to war.

On March 19, 2003, he delivered the first of what became regular attacks on the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq. “Today I weep for my country,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor. “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.”

Dour and aloof, a socially awkward outsider in the clubby confines of the Senate, Mr. Byrd relied not on personality but on dogged attention to detail to succeed on Capitol Hill.

Now, in less than a year, the U.S. Senate has lost its “lion” – Ted Kennedy, who died last August 25 – and its Dean – “the oldest current member of the Congress, and is the first person to serve uninterrupted for half a century as a U.S. senator.”  Even if some may not realize it, we are all the worse for the absence of these two men from the halls of Congress.  Condolences to Robert Byrd’s family, friends, colleagues and constitutents.

UPDATE: Jim Webb’s Communications Director, Jessica Smith, writes on Facebook:

RIP, Robert Byrd. Your contagious passion, pocket Constitution, anti-war posture, love of dogs, annual Father’s Day speech, and fiery theatrics will be missed on the Senate floor.

  • Shenandoah Democrat

    The Senator would have wanted us all to listen to his wonderful music today!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

  • One of Byrd’s last major political acts stands out the most to me: Standing up to Big Coal’s clean energy & climate obstructionism.

  • I know every story about every wrong-headed decision that Senator Robert Byrd made. But I also know how many decisions he made, big and small, that made the lives of West Virginians (and Americans) better. When my grandfather was dying of black lung, his paperwork, as often happens, was hung up in red tape bureaucracy and the courts. This is a common tactic — after all, if the miner dies, the black lung money to his widow need not be paid.

    My grandfather had barely three years worth of formal education. He has scurvy so badly that he would literally crawl from his desk to the board to do his lessons. He was farming before he could see over the horse, and went into the mines as soon as the guards looked the other way regarding his age. He learned to read and write so he could send letters to my grandmother during the Second World War.

    When he was dying, he called Senator Byrd and asked for help with the black lung paperwork. Within a few weeks, all of the issues had gone away. The black lung money would be paid. My grandmother would be provided for by her own husband’s work, even if had killed him in the end.

    Yes, there will be stories about the KKK and the War on Poverty, there will be stories if Robert Byrd bridges and the FBI lab and the speech before we went into Iraq.  And these are all stories that should be told. But in West Virginia today, little family stories like the one I tell above are what we are remembering. We are remembering when we had a time of trouble and went to the government for help, and Robert Byrd was there.

    And that’s why we loved him. He was ours and we were his. I’m the Democrat I am today because of Robert Byrd.

    Sleep well, dear friend.  

  • Brian

    Had Bush been able to restrain himself and not go to war in Iraq,I think its fair to say we would be talking about Byrd’s other record.  He was with the Strom Thurmond in the last great filibuster, the filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Edmund Pettus Bridge incident didn’t phase him, and he voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He lobbied hard to deny Homosexuals their rights. He voted against both Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas,nevermind Thomas like Byrd is a states-rights person. He like Calhoun and Russell, were very important to the Senate as an institution, but like them, no one remembers them, because they were on the wrong side of history, and he was a former Klan member.  Ted Kennedy, he got into a car accident, he might’ve been drunk, the area was not well lit. A person’s life was lost.  While that was a tragic incident and a stain, millions of Americans,people around the world, get into car accidents that results in a loss of life.  Byrd, is in a category all by himself.  

  • I would have posted pretty much the same post, no matter what.    The war in Iraq and Byrd’s response is important (and I’ve never shied away from recognizing the wrong-headed choices Byrd made before I was born), but to my family and the many West Virginians I have known, what he did nearly half a century ago and what he did only a few years ago pales in comparison to the thousands of small things he did to help ordinary people going about their every day lives.