"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
-Oscar Wilde
Brilliant at Breakfast title banner "The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
"...you have a choice: be a fighting liberal or sit quietly. I know what I am, what are you?" -- Steve Gilliard, 1964 - 2007

"For straight up monster-stomping goodness, nothing makes smoke shoot out my ears like Brilliant@Breakfast" -- Tata

"...the best bleacher bum since Pete Axthelm" -- Randy K.

"I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm all out of bubblegum." -- "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (1954-2015), They Live
Monday, June 28, 2010

The Redemption of Robert Byrd
Posted by Jill | 5:46 AM

The news just broke of the death of West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd at the age of 92. This loss, expected as it may have been, since a man going into the hospital with a serious condition at age 92 is never good news, is incalculable for reasons that go beyond party numbers in the Senate.

Robert Byrd was the living embodiment of America's shame, and its progress, about race. Every time I have written about Byrd on this blog for the last six years, and indeed every time his name has been mentioned anywhere, some wingnut troll who is no doubt now attending teabag rallies and pretending that his rage isn't about race, will come along and talk about Byrd's membership in the Ku Klux Klan.

So in memorializing this great man, let's get that out of the way up front, shall we?

We can excoriate Thomas Jefferson for owning slaves, or D.W. Griffith for the horrific portrayal of black people in Birth of a Nation. We can rightly criticize Robert Byrd for having joined the Klan in his early twenties as a product of the racist south. But we cannot criticize any man for not being ahead of his time.

Byrd clung to the legacy of the racist south for far longer than we would have liked, even joining a filibuster of the Civil Rights act of 1964 -- perhaps the most important piece of legislation of my lifetime. It was the last gasp of the "Dixiecrats" -- southern Democrats of the Civil War legacy most of whom when their own party turned its back on racism, became Republicans -- men like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. Byrd did not, however. Byrd recognized that the world was changing and he was willing to change with it. In 2008, he supported Barack Obama for the presidency early on.

The very same people who want to delude themselves that they have a free pass into heaven despite supporting policies that keep peole mired in poverty, despite cheating on their wives and getting into bed with corporations that ruin their God's creation, don't want to give a man whose later life was about as solid a demonstration of penitence as I've ever seen, the same chance at redemption. So let them talk about the Klan instead of the apology, let them talk about the mistakes of a young man who was shaped by the most vile practices in this country's history, and who opened his eyes to realize the injustice in which he was raised. Let those who continue to use racist code to dogwhistle to those who would undo all the racial progress of the last fifty years remain focused on a renounced past. Let them project their own bigotry. Because what we honor today is not a life without mistakes, a life of unequivocal virtue. What we honor today is a life which demonstrated the possibility of growth and redemption.

Robert Byrd in his own words:

The above video is from 2009, in which Sen. Byrd questioned the very Afghanistan "surge" that is still keeping us mired in that country, just as he said then that it would.

...on the need to investigate Bush torture policies:
The rule of law is not just a lofty concept to which we should aspire only when convenient. It is a fundamental principal upon which our Republic was founded, and it is the foundation of our free society. I understand the desire to look forward and to forge a new path on high ground instead of on the low road of the past eight years. But to use the need to move on as a reason not to investigate basic human rights violations is unacceptable. Excusing individuals at the highest levels of government from adhering to the rule of law, whether in wartime or not, is a dangerous precedent, for it undercuts the principle of accountability which permeates representative democracy.

Sadly, the world will discover more and more about the acts committed at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram, and elsewhere around the world. There is no avoiding that eventuality. It is our choice as a nation whether to pursue the path of truth ourselves, or leave the details of the abuse to be painfully revealed by others. Releasing the OLC memos was a courageous and admirable first step. But we must not stop there.

Whether it is through an independent investigation, a "Truth Commission," a Congressional investigation, or a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice, action must be taken. As long as those who condoned and approved these despicable acts are permitted to escape the consequences, we allow our moral standing in the world to be severely compromised. September 11 did not suddenly legalize torture, nor did it exonerate those who authorized such a heinous deviation from the rule of law. How we address these abuses will shape the image of the United States for decades. In order to truly clear our good name and put the past behind us, the United States must strive to be sure that this dark period of sick and secretive torture schemes receives the scrutiny it deserves.

...on corruption in Iraq:
“The U.S. judicial system is also not doing its part to deter corruption and fraud by aggressively prosecuting the perpetrators of these crimes. Many cases that are painstakingly built in Iraq by investigators are, my staff was told, turned over to the Department of Justice or U.S. attorney offices for prosecution only to fall into a black hole, an abyss of cynical indifference to punishing criminals and recovering billions in lost funds. We are not deterring fraud and corruption, and we are not demonstrating the benefits of a just “Rule of Law.” How can we ask Iraqi investigators and judges to arrest and prosecute their citizens for these crimes, often at great risk to their personal safety, when the Americans there doing the same thing go unpunished?

“Senator Dorgan, as you know, I invited Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General Michael Mukasey to an Appropriations Committee hearing on September 17 to address the problems my staff uncovered. Overcoming these barriers is neither insurmountable nor expensive, but it does require attention and sincere commitment from these Cabinet officers.

“However, neither Secretary Rice nor Attorney General Mukasey could find the time to address these serious problems for which they have responsibility, problems that have squandered our resources, and problems that are arming our enemies. Our witnesses today will bring more attention to the scope and consequences of these problems, and I look forward to hearing their testimony.”

...on Afghanistan as the "Grave of Foreigners":
“Mr. President, what is really at stake for the United States in Afghanistan? We all know that Afghanistan is not a threat to us militarily. The Taliban is not a threat to us militarily. Al Qaeda, however, is a demonstrated threat to us with ambitions and a philosophy that must keep us vigilant. But the link between al Qaeda and Afghanistan is a tenuous one, based only on the temporary expediency of location, an expediency that has already been replaced as the al Qaeda leadership has moved, and may move again.”

“Building a Western-style democratic state in an Afghanistan equipped with a large military and police force and a functioning economy based on something other than opium poppies may or may not deny al Qaeda a safe haven there again. It will guarantee that the United States must invest large numbers of troops and many billions of dollars in Afghanistan for many years to come, energy and funds that might otherwise go toward fueling our own economic recovery, better educating our children or expanding access to health care for more of our own people. And yet there are many here in this body -- the Senate -- who believe we should proceed with such a folly in Afghanistan. During a time of record deficits, some actually continue to suggest that the United States should sink hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars into Afghanistan effectively turning our backs on our own substantial domestic needs -- all the while deferring the costs and the problems for future generations to address.”

...on the historical context of the filibuster in the face of an obstructionist Republican minority
In his notes of the Constitutional Convention on June 26, 1787, James Madison recorded that the ends to be served by the Senate were “first, to protect the people against their rulers, secondly, to protect the people against the transient impressions into which they themselves might be led... They themselves, as well as a numerous body of Representatives, were liable to err also, from fickleness and passion. A necessary fence against this danger would be to select a portion of enlightened citizens, whose limited number, and firmness might seasonably interpose against impetuous councils.” That “fence” was the United States Senate.

The right to filibuster anchors this necessary fence. But it is not a right intended to be abused.

During this 111th Congress in particular the minority has threatened to filibuster almost every matter proposed for Senate consideration. I find this tactic contrary to each Senator’s duty to act in good faith.

I share the profound frustration of my constituents and colleagues as we confront this situation. The challenges before our nation are far too grave, and too numerous, for the Senate to be rendered impotent to address them, and yet be derided for inaction by those causing the delay.

There are many suggestions as to what we should do. I know what we must not do.

We must never, ever, tear down the only wall – the necessary fence - this nation has against the excesses of the Executive Branch and the resultant haste and tyranny of the majority.

The path to solving our problem lies in our thoroughly understanding it. Does the difficulty reside in the construct of our rules or in the ease of circumventing them?

A true filibuster is a fight, not a threat or a bluff. For most of the Senate’s history, Senators motivated to extend debate had to hold the floor as long as they were physically able. The Senate was either persuaded by the strength of their arguments or unconvinced by either their commitment or their stamina. True filibusters were therefore less frequent, and more commonly discouraged, due to every Senator’s understanding that such undertakings required grueling personal sacrifice, exhausting preparation, and a willingness to be criticized for disrupting the nation’s business.

Now, unbelievably, just the whisper of opposition brings the “world’s greatest deliberative body” to a grinding halt. Why?

Because this once highly respected institution has become overwhelmingly consumed by a fixation with money and media.

Gone are the days when Senators Richard Russell and Lyndon Johnson, and Speaker Sam Rayburn gathered routinely for working weekends and couldn’t wait to get back to their chambers on Monday morning.

Now every Senator spends hours every day, throughout the year and every year, raising funds for re-election and appearing before cameras and microphones. Now the Senate often works three-day weeks, with frequent and extended recess periods, so Senators can rush home to fundraisers scheduled months in advance.

Robert Byrd entered the Senate when it was a chamber of statesmen, and remained there to watch it turn into a pack of mad dogs. The loss of Robert Byrd isn't simply just another old man who didn't know when to leave. Having Robert Byrd, a man who studied history and its lessons, as the conscience of the Senate, always provided a voice of intellect and reason amidst the baying of the wolves. Without him, incurious, willfully ignorant idiots like Jeff Sessions rule the day.

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share
Blogger Raksha said...
Re [i]"Let those who continue to use racist code to dogwhistle to those who would undo all the racial progress of the last fifty years remain focused on a renounced past. Let them project their own bigotry. Because what we honor today is not a life without mistakes, a life of unequivocal virtue. What we honor today is a life which demonstrated the possibility of growth and redemption."[/i]

Thank you, Jill. This is a superb tribute to a very great man. I'm going to post the link to your blog on another forum where a minority of loudmouth wingnuts never fails to mention Sen. Byrd's KKK past every time his name is mentioned, just like you said.

Blogger jurassicpork said...
In WV, his funeral will end with a 21 axe handle salute.