Now the US Senate Will Change


byrd senate.jpg
Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) has died at 92.
I had the privilege of speaking with Senator Byrd on many occasions but the most memorable was after his vote against the Iraq War Resolution. He was frustrated with his colleagues and compared the moment to Roman Senators forfeiting their own responsibilities and handing too much power to Caesar.
But Senator Byrd has also been the single US Senator most opposed to change in the Senate chamber — preventing modification of arcane internal rules that make any majority effort in the Senate wobbly and fragile.
His passing will certainly bring on a survey of the Senate machinery and start a process of updating and streamlining — which may in fact not be good with regard to minority political rights.
But without Byrd there, it’s highly unlikely anyone will emerge to be the defender of the institution to the degree he was.
— Steve Clemons


17 comments on “Now the US Senate Will Change

  1. David says:

    Yes, he filibustered the Civil Rights Act. That was the moment at which he could go one of two ways: remain mired in Southern rejectionism, or see the light. He ultimately chose the latter. I also refer you to Sonny Montgomery. My point was that when Southerners do see the light, they really do. I can speak to that issue as a 68 year-old Southerner, and a teacher who started his teaching career in 1967, when Florida was still fighting against the magnificent 1954 “activist” Supreme Court decision that struck down “separate but equal,” a decision that I as a 7th grade white student in Winter Park, Florida lauded, much to the consternation of my classmates.
    I have seen many instances of genuine shifts. The principal of the high school at which I started my teaching career was a segregationist, a man from South Carolina, but a man who, when told that the black school high school would be closed and the white high school integrated, went over to the black high school and delivered a speech welcoming the black students that set a tone such that my high school experienced zero racial incidents when the two schools were merged. His acceptance was genuine. He rose above his segregationist past because he realized he had a larger obligation as a high school principal.
    I realize the problem that it was about the black school closing and the black students being absorbed into the white high school, but the white high school was, of course, a better facility, larger, and the school on which the community as a whole was focused. It was the best route at the time, all things considered, and the embrace of black students was genuine. Just the opposite was true in any number of other high schools, one notable example being a high school in St. Petersburg.
    Your criticisms of Byrd’s history are legitimate. Your understanding of who he became is incorrect. I’ll throw in another example: George Wallace. If you do not understand that George Wallace came to regret racism, you don’t know his history. How complete the transition was neither I nor his daughter, who voted for Barack Obama, know. But he was a different man in his later life, and in fact became a hard-core racist, at least on the surface, after he lost to Big Jim Folsom, because he got “out-niggered.”
    The governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, on the other hand, should have, in my opinion, been arrested and tried as a terrorist for supporting the White Citizens Councils. Blacks could not even talk to Ross Barnett. They could call George Wallace and remind him that the Montgomery fire department was blasting little children with fire hoses. And LBJ was able to lean on the governor of Arkansas.
    American apartheid was an abomination, but it is important to understand who did and who did not undergo, at some point, a shift. I would also remind you that even if they changed for “purely political reasons,” that is more than good enough becuase it is ultimately the decisions a political figure makes that matters. Motivation is less important. If LBJ passed his Civil Rights legislation for votes, fine. He passed it. Truth, however, is that he knew he was turning the South over to the Republicans when he did, so how do you account for this former Texas racist making that shift. His first motivation in 1957 was apparently because of presidential ambitions. But how do you explain his actions when he had nothing to gain politically, only Southern Democrats to lose to the Republican Party?


  2. W.E.B. Du Bois says:

    Du Bois was insightful and David was brave, you are not. Your argument is that Byrd was genuine merely because he is a Southerner, which is not much of an argument. Are Southerners faster runners too? Do they do better at math than other Americans? What other attributes can we apply to all Southerners? There is no reason to believe that Byrd flipped for any reason other than political ambition and the love of political power.
    In any case, regardless of his shift in consciousness, he still was a high ranking Klansman and he still filibustered the Civil Rights Act.


  3. David says:

    W.E.B.DuBois was insightful. You are not. That is one of the most absurd comments I have ever read about a political figure who grew from Southern (Indiana was no different) Klan affiliation to a champion of everything anti-KKK. When Southerners undergo a shift in consciousness, it is real and it produces action. We don’t do pretend shifts. It is not in our nature.
    POA, I follow MJ Rosenberg and find him a very refreshing voice for reality, but I hadn’t yet seen this article. Thanks. I think I’ve said elsewhere that one of my colleagues from community college teaching days said to me that Israel is an albatross around the neck of the Democratic Party. Because of the influence of reactionary Jews in America and the ruthless mindset of Jewish leadership in Israel, he is correct.
    I don’t disagree about the homicidal shortcomings of the majority of members of congress, both on the issue of brutal Israeli intransigence and American military adventurism, I just disagree about the reasons. Corruption is not the primary problem. A combination of ideology and a lack of courage are what plague Washington. But I still argue that they do represent the actual mindsets of the majority of Americans, regardless of how angry Americans might be at Congress. Americans in general do not have much of a body of political, or other, knowledge, and they do not want it. They prefer being angry and basing their votes on opposition research tv ads. Learning and thinking are “too hard,” and not much fun. And then when they are driven by anger, they fill their heads with crap from Fox and other feces factories.
    I don’t think I’m naive – not anymore. Actually not since LBJ escalated the Viet Nam War, and certainly not since Americans chose Nixon, later Reagan, and finally W. No, I’m not naive. I just have a diffent take on the causes.


  4. questions says:
    A diarist pulled a whole bunch of comments from the WSJ and compiled them.
    Read and weep for the Republicans — if even half of these posts are genuine, there’s going to be different wake up call from the one the Tea Party has been anticipating.
    Trying to be a famous senator is a mistake, Mr. Brown.
    Grandstanding is a mistake. Getting some actual work done is a better thing to take credit for than is stopping, ummm, unemployment benefits for those who are long-term unemployed in a depression (remember, the bottom chunk of the economy is in depression, the top chunk is fine.)


  5. W.E.B. Du Bois says:

    Byrd was a former KKK piece of crap and I’m glad he’s gone.


  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    MJ Rosenberg fully understands what spineless jackasses and scumballs we have in Congress, David.
    The delusional lobby
    I guess this is what happens to people who never hear the word “no.”
    In an op-ed published today by JTA, the two most powerful and influential leaders of the pro-Israel lobby assert, as proclaimed in the article’s title, that “Only Israel [is] making the effort toward peace.”
    The op-ed is written by Lee Rosenberg, president of AIPAC, and Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. (Rosenberg and Solow are not well-known because they are the two organizations’ titular leaders, but their words reflect lobby policy.)
    Their argument is simple: the Netanyahu government is doing everything in its power to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
    Yes, you read it right. Contrary to what pretty much the entire world (including, probably, most of Israel) believes, the Netanyahu government is energetically pursuing an agreement with the Palestinians.
    Since assuming office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pursued peace with Israel’s neighbors. […]
    Underscoring Israel’s sincerity and willingness to make the most difficult choices in the pursuit of peace, a few months after his speech Netanyahu took another bold step, declaring a 10-month moratorium on all Israeli construction in the West Bank. […]
    Alongside political gestures, Israel also has taken significant steps to ensure that life improves for Palestinians in the West Bank. […]
    While the current Israeli government, like its predecessors, has proven its desire for peace, the leader of the Palestinian Authority refuses to meet or even speak on the phone with his Israeli counterpart.
    Well, okay, but….
    One, the West Bank remains fully occupied. The Palestinians have limited authority in certain areas but have sovereignty nowhere. The Palestinians do not control a single inch. The Israeli army can (and does) come and go whenever and wherever it chooses. Despite the propagation of the myth that Israel has yielded “land for peace,” Israel controls precisely as much of the West Bank as it did back in June 1967 when the occupation began: 100%.
    Two, Gaza remains under Israeli blockade. Although Israel has promised to ease the blockade of Gaza and the economic strangulation of its people, Gaza remains occupied. There are no Israeli soldiers stationed there but its air, sea and land borders are fully controlled and patrolled. That is occupation. This is despite the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself admits that the blockade is not necessary to Israel’s security but is, as Sen. Schumer has said, designed to punish the people of Gaza.
    Three, Israel continues to expel Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem to make way for settlers. The lobbyists say that there is a ten-month freeze on construction in the West Bank. Ridiculous. The “freeze” does not include the environs of Jerusalem, which is where most of the settlement expansion takes place. As this excellent report from Americans For Peace Now demonstrates, the “freeze” is as real as the freezing weather here in Washington, DC today.
    Israel can, and does, build wherever it wants to, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while Palestinians can, and do, see their homes or olive trees disappear whenever Israel feels like building a road, a settlement or a “security wall” on the spot.
    It is hard to believe that the authors actually believe the words they put on the page. Just today, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (whose views on Arabs are unabashedly racist) declared that there would be no Palestinian state until 2012 at the earliest, thereby doing his best to kill Israeli-Palestinian negotiations before they even start. A few days ago, Israeli authorities announced plans to expel 22 more Palestinian families from their homes in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem to make way for Israeli-owned businesses. And just hours ago, bulldozers appeared in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem to start building a housing project for ultra-Orthodox Jews in a previously all-Palestinian neighborhood. Such is the occupation 45 years after it began. 45 years.
    I’ll stop there. Why rebut an article so utterly opposed to reality? I mean, nobody believes this kind of propaganda.
    Wait, I forgot.
    Congress buys it hook, line and sinker. No, actually it doesn’t but it pretends it does to please the organizations headed by Solow and Rosenberg and the others that constitute the lobby.
    In fact, no claim made by the lobby is ever rejected by Congress, especially in an election year. Just this week 338 House members and 87 Senators signed on to AIPAC-drafted letters supporting Israeli actions relating to the Gaza flotilla and the blockade itself. Do these legislators believe this nonsense? Of course not. But they sign the letters anyway, usually without reading them.
    That is why it is worth reading the Solow/Rosenberg opinion piece. As ridiculous as its arguments are, they are important. You know the phrase “from your mouth to God’s ear.” In this case it is “from the lobby’s mouth to your Congressman’s ear.”
    I will repeat what I have said before (and will again). The lobby is doing Israel no favors when it knowingly distorts the facts in order to help Israel sustain the occupation. The occupation is destroying Israel, with the help of the lobby and these self-proclaimed friends in Congress. Fortunately, there is J Street which is, in fact, what AIPAC calls itself: “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby.” (It is also pro-American.)
    Rosenberg and Solow should be ashamed. Rest assured, they aren’t.
    Note: the lobby’s next big move will come when it starts telling the US government that Iran sanctions have failed and it’s time to allow Israel to attack. And, as Yogi Berra famously said, it’ll be d


  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Well, David, I guess we will hafta just disagree. You don’t climb into a high chair in Washington DC because you are honest or of good character. If you DO manage to get there with integrity, you are marginalized, ridiculed, and sidelined, case in point, Kucinich.
    Sorry, man, but I find your read on DC somewhat naive. Who have you seen screaming about the million or so non-combatants we’ve murdered in Iraq? Seen any of the posturing sacks of shit mention Tristan or Emily? Seen any of them underscore Iran’s COMPLIANCE with the NPT? Seen any of them raising holy hell about Holder’s refusal, (due to Obama’s wishes), to investigate, indict, and prosecute KNOWN war criminals, perjurers, and torturers?
    Nope, David you’re wrong. Theres a seething mass of snakes presiding over high government, and its only getting worse, not better. As people like Byrd die off, you have a whole new generation of scumbags climbing the ladder, and noting, on the way up, that after you arrive, and you play your cards right and don’t buck the status quo, you are above the law, and about to get very very rich.


  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Why on earth did you work for him?”
    How the hell was I supposed to know he was a scumball? I had just moved into the area, and he contacted me to do some work.
    To give you an idea, at the time I had a gal apprentice, who also happened to be knock dead attractive. Whats this dirtbag do? He walks up to her, on the job, and gives her a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, with some leering little comment that made her storm out of the house, offended to her core. Mind you she was in her late twenties, attached, and he was pushing 60.
    He also had some interesting ideas about how HE could observe the law, and 1099 me, yet I could get around paying the taxes by submitting a false business name for him to 1099. The guy was, is, a scumbag, in every sense of the word.
    Theres more, but I won’t get into it. It appalls me that this guy was a Senator, and may well be one again. I honestly believe he’s not an anomaly. DC is swimming in these scumbags.


  9. David says:

    Spot on assessment of Viet Nam, POA. It was what turned me against LBJ in spite of his domestic agenda. I tend to suspect that he came to realize at the end that he had made a terrible mistake, but it was a mistake born not of corruption but of his Texas anti-communist mindset. He saw the rest of the world through that terribly distorted lens.
    I do, however, have to disagree with the brush with which you tar them all. The anger is more than justified, the characterization too simplistic. How do you account for the black woman in congress from Maryland? How do you account for Bob Graham, who as chair of the Senate intelligence committee, opposed the authorization for Bush to go to war with Iraq? How do you account for the senator Robert Byrd grew to become? How do you account for Marcy Kaptur? How do you account for Dennis Kucinich? How do you account for…well, you get the picture? Sorry, but I simply cannot buy your blanket diatribes, much as I share your anger at those who actually do fit the mold you propose – and there are a lot of them who do. But ideology is a far greater problem than corruption. As far as I know, the two senators from Oklahoma are pretty clean. They are also highly destructive ideologues.
    I worked for the election of a congressman from my district at the time, Buddy MacKay. He was, and still is, the antithesis of your description of members of congress. But Republicans and anti-progressive Democrats chose Connie Mack over Rep. MacKay in the Senate race. Connie Mack was and is a perfectly honest lightweight right wing ideologue. Florida voters are responsible for his presence in the Senate and the damage he inflicted, which had nothing to do with corruption. Ronald Reagan, the worst president before W, was not corrupt, was not a self-serving piece of shit, he was profoundly misguided and sufficiently egotistical to believe that he knew what he was doing.
    No, it is not just that they are corrupt pieces of shit. The majority of them represent the mindsets of the majority of Americans. That is our most serious problem.


  10. erichwwk says:

    You write”
    “By the way, I have done work for a former Senator here in California, who is trying desperately to get back into office. Truth is, this piece of shit is one of the most dishonest and scummy human beings I have ever come into contact with.”
    Why on earth did you work for him? No value for “right livelihood”?
    Seems to me “right action” is more effective than “right words”.


  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “He opposed going the Iraq War, and he defended the constitution for its protection of the people, not the corporations”
    Which brings us back to my first post on this thread, doesn’t it?


  12. Linda says:

    I’d hoped to see a little more thoughtful and respectful discussion on the passing of Senator Byrd who was truly a great Senator who grew and changed with the times. Very few Dixiecrats from the 1950s did that and stayed in office and evolved into liberal Democrats as he did. They either became Republicans or were replaced by them.
    Senator Byrd always was for the ordinary working people in his state and embraced civil rights and desegregation–no small feat for a former member of KKK. He opposed going the Iraq War, and he defended the constitution for its protection of the people, not the corporations.


  13. nadine says:

    Speaking of corruption, J. Christian Adams:
    “After the election, the Justice Department brought a voter-intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party and those armed thugs. I and other Justice attorneys diligently pursued the case and obtained an entry of default after the defendants ignored the charges. Before a final judgment could be entered in May 2009, our superiors ordered us to dismiss the case.
    The New Black Panther case was the simplest and most obvious violation of federal law I saw in my Justice Department career. Because of the corrupt nature of the dismissal, statements falsely characterizing the case and, most of all, indefensible orders for the career attorneys not to comply with lawful subpoenas investigating the dismissal, this month I resigned my position as a Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney.”
    It takes little imagination to picture the firestorm that this would have ignited if Bush were still President.


  14. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “But — POA: I’ve read so many of your comments
    over the years, and they tend to be so incisive
    and angry no matter what happens. I’m curious —
    what does an ideal world look like to you? What
    are your policy positions? In your opinion, the
    best U.S. Senator ever is ____, best President
    _____ , Congress person _____ ?”
    First of all, my “personna” here is no reflection on my everyday moods or attitude that I carry with me on my day to day “real life”. I’ve assumed a manner of posting here that is designed to be confrontive, constantly critical, and openly distrustful of the DC dirtbags. This personna has worked well for me as far as providing me with an avenue to vent, and has proven to be a lot of fun in regards to the kind of interaction it illicits. In truth, its kinda fun being “PissedOffAmerican”.
    In regards to politics, I ask very little, if in fact this nation is what it purports itself to be; I want a representative government, that is held accountable to the law.
    We don’t have that. I’m not sure we ever did. But certainly, if we have had it, in my lifetime I have watched these two basic concepts of governance erode progressively, to the point we now find ourselves.
    And “where” do I consider that “point” to be?
    Well, as far as “representative government” goes, it has become a media construct, an illusion, where the “majority’s” wants and wishes are simply implied through carefully framed media marketing and “polls” that are engineered to arrive at predetermined conclusions. These sacks of shit in DC don’t “represent” anyone I know. Do you know anyone that is “happy” with our government right now, except those of you that make a living off these dirtbags and their system of waste and corruption??
    And as far as these slimey fucks in DC being held accountable before the law; the last decade, and the current Administration’s refusal to investigate, indict, and prosecute KNOWN criminals in both the private sector AND the last presidential administration certainly lends the lie to the premise that these DC elitists have any respect for the law, unless, of course, it serves their partisan agenda to spank a member of the oppositional party.
    And I don’t have any “best evers” to feed you, Josh. I think for a very long time now, certainly in my lifetime, we have had a bunch of self serving criminal pieces of shit in DC. You gotta realize, when I started “paying attention” as a young adult, the elitist “ruling class” was hell bent on filling my body up with Agent Orange, and throwing me, my brother, my peers, and my friends to the devil in some God forsaken jungle that none of their kids, or themselves, were ever going to step foot in. And they certainly, in the last fifty years, haven’t got any more mindful of the value of human life, or any less prone to send our kids off to die in some fuckin’ hellhole while they amass fortunes, send THEIR kids to the finest colleges wrapped in dandy health insurance policies and guaranteed entry into the job market upon graduation.
    So Josh.
    Since you asked, as “PissedOffAmerican”, I gotta say;
    Fuck em all.
    (And that includes any American that doesn’t have the common sense, the requisite amount of brain cells, to be as pissed off as “PissedOffAmerican” is.)
    I know citizens that would make GREAT Presidents or Senators. The thing is, they just aren’t slimey enough, corrupt enough, narcissistic enough, and callous enough, to climb the ladder that has to be climbed to get there.
    By the way, I have done work for a former Senator here in California, who is trying desperately to get back into office. Truth is, this piece of shit is one of the most dishonest and scummy human beings I have ever come into contact with. I won’t get into specifics, but suffice to say the man disgusts me on every level. I suspect, in DC, he fits right in.


  15. David says:

    You make some excellent points, POA. Robert Byrd started in a not-very-good place, but a lifetime of the kinds of experiences to which you allude shaped what was obviously a capable mind and spirit into one of the genuinely great senators. What a stark contrast to someone like Jesse Helms.
    I assume that since the governor of West Virginia is a Democrat, he will appoint a Democrat to Robert Byrd’s seat. But I am unaware of any current West Virginia Democrat with the capacity to grow that Robert Byrd demonstrated.


  16. Josh M. says:

    This is indeed sad news. Byrd’s later policy
    positions (i.e. the last decade), at least to me,
    were a bit more digestible than some of his
    earlier ones. His Civil Rights Act filibuster
    always made me a uncomfortable…
    But — POA: I’ve read so many of your comments
    over the years, and they tend to be so incisive
    and angry no matter what happens. I’m curious —
    what does an ideal world look like to you? What
    are your policy positions? In your opinion, the
    best U.S. Senator ever is ____, best President
    _____ , Congress person _____ ?
    I don’t mean to antagonize at all. I’m just really
    curious as to what your proactive views are.


  17. PissedOffAmerican says:

    One wonders what will become of this nation as these dinosaurs die off.
    The new crop of Washington scumbags will have never experienced what it is like to be monitored by a true Fourth Estate, and waging war with drones and airpower has removed any personal recognition of the human suffering involved. And the fear of being held accountable before the law is no longer an incentive for moral and representative leadership, because there is no longer any accountablity before the law since the Justice Department became little more than a factotum to the Executive Branch.


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