After the death yesterday of Sen. Robert Byrd, there was an unspoken agreement in the conservative blogosphere to refrain from gratuitous shots at the departed. But after a day of hagiographies of Byrd in the legacy media, there is only so much commentators on the Right can stand without speaking.
One such commentator is National Review’s Jim Geraghty, who captures the irritation perfectly in today’s Morning Jolt e-mail blast:
Remember yesterday morning when I told everyone to be on their best behavior about the death of West Virginia senator Robert Byrd? Yeah, sorry about that; I didn’t realize the epic scale of the whitewash we were going to have to endure. I got through about midmorning, but somewhere around the headline “With Byrd’s death, the era of statesmen fades”I found myself unable to resist wondering whether in his honor today all white bedsheets would be flown at half-mast.
I understand not speaking ill of the dead, but the mainstream media pushes it; the career of Robert Byrd may have set a new record for glossing over horrific past views and behavior, and for praising garden-variety corruption. (See Eleanor Clift approvingly note how Byrd would alter the Senate schedule to accommodate his friends’ fundraisers.) Pick your angle: His career’s dawn, unbelievably racist by the standards of today, a long, slow, sad decline into physical inability to perform his duties (falling asleep on the Senate floor, rambling incoherently), and all along, a steady effort to move every last federal dollar back to West Virginia — and, as I laid out yesterday, naming seemingly every last one of those projects after himself in such a relentlessly, ostentatiously egomaniacal manner that even Kim Jong Il would have declared it a little gauche. Sure, he loved history, enough to dress up as a Confederate general and do cameos in movies. Swell.
Writing at Powerline, Scott Johnson lays out the grisly parts many chose not to remember yesterday: “Robert Byrd was indeed 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. [New York Times correspondent Sheryl] Stolberg obviously loved Byrd’s cornpone constitutional shtick in favor of filibustering a Republican president’s judicial appointees. It’s a shame that Stolberg exerted no effort to put Byrd’s shtick in the context it merited. 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. Funny Stolberg didn’t invite Byrd to take a walk down memory lane on that subject. It would have been highly illuminating.”
I think Nick Gillespie lets Byrd off too easily on his past racist acts when he calls invoking them a “cheap shot,” but he goes on to lay out: “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 tobuild a statue of himin defiance of a rule that such honorees be dead for 50 years. . . . Characters like Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Penn.), 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.”
David Boaz notes that Byrd was a fair-weather constitutionalist: “He often held up the Cato Institute’s pocket edition of the Constitution as he made that vital point in Senate debate. I have several emails from colleagues over the years reading ‘Senator Byrd is waving the Cato Constitution on the Senate floor right now.’ Alas, if he really took the Constitution seriously, he would have realized that the limited powers it gives the federal government wouldn’t include many of the New Deal and Great Society programs that opened up whole new vistas for pork in West Virginia.”
Lest you think I’m nothing but nastiness, I offer this note from Don Surber: “As a West Virginian, I understand why he was revered: He rose from nothing.”