"Robert Byrd was ... a valuable link not only to the Senate's past, but also to the Democratic Party's history as the party of slavery, segregation and opposition to equal treatment of blacks. ... Byrd was old enough, for example, to have vowed memorably regarding the integration of the armed forces by President Truman that he would never fight 'with a Negro by my side. Rather, I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.'
"Even after his resignation from the Klan, Byrd continued to hold it in high esteem, writing to the Klan's Imperial Wizard in 1946: 'The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia.' And Byrd was old enough to have participated in filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as to have voted against it after cloture along with 18 other Democrats - in the name of the Constitution, of course."
"Byrd also attracted controversy as one of the biggest practitioners of pork-barrel politics in Congress, which endeared him to many West Virginia voters but made him the scourge of clean-government and fiscal-responsibility activists."
"It's Byrd's status as the Babe Ruth of pork-barrel spending and taxpayer-funded narcissism that is his real legacy and the one we should never forget or forgive. Here lies a man who pushed his home state to build a statue of him in defiance of a rule that such honorees be dead for 50 years. ... Characters like Rep. [John P.] Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, another recently deceased pork-barrel prodigy, and Byrd might have been larger than life, but they worked to corrode any integrity voters and critics of government might find in legislators.
"We're grown-ups here in America, and we're supposed to be able to take care of ourselves with a minimum of paternalistic help. For the times and places and people who really do need outside help, it fouls the nest when it is administered by folks such as Byrd, because it becomes impossible to know if this is a legitimate exercise of state power and assistance or just one more bank job pulled under the cover of often-impenetrable Latinate rhetoric."
"In the hours and days to come, there'll be liberals offering honest assessments of Byrd, including his racial attitudes - and yet the 'respectable' right is going to use this death to insist that there's a media double standard, because obituaries of Strom Thurmond focused on his segregationist views, and those of Byrd in the mainstream press don't.
"This is going to be yet another grievance that inflames and rallies the grievance collectors of the right. Never mind the fact that segregationism was central to Thurmond's career as a national politician ... while Byrd, though a vote for racism during part of his political career, was never the racial driving force that Thurmond was (Byrd's own appalling 1964 filibuster of civil rights legislation notwithstanding).
"None of the whiners we'll hear from in the next few weeks will note that the New York Times obituary devotes five paragraphs to Byrd's membership in the Klan as a young man, stating flatly that 'Mr. Byrd's political life could be traced to his early involvement with the Ku Klux Klan.' We'll be told this part of his life was ignored. It's not true."
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