Monday, June 28, 2010

Senator Robert Byrd - Died at 92

Like lots of students I was pretty ambivalent about the whole graduation ceremony. If you asked me I would have rather just dropped by office to pick up my degree and be done with it. Certainly I could have chosen to do just that. The thing is, graduation ceremonies, like funerals, are really more for family and friends then they are about you. It's about public acknowledgement for your accomplishments.

The year I graduated from a small college in West Virginia, I had no clue who was going to be speaking at our commencement. Instead I wrestled over showing up and trying to resist the pressure from friends and family who insisted that they felt they deserved watching me do the march because they had been supportive of me. What tipped my hand was the promise of a very nice dinner and my the idea that it would set a good example for my sons.

It wasn't until I showed up for the line-up that I bothered asking who was going to be speaking. I honestly hadn't cared I just hoped he wouldn't ramble on and on.

When I found out that it was Robert Byrd I almost walked out. While many of the native West Virginians were excited I had no desire to hear the former Klansman and staunch segregationist speak at our commencement. How in the world could a former Klansman continue to play such a big part in a party that claimed they cared about African-Americans I never understood.

Yet Byrd apologists would say that it was a youthful mistake or the Klan wasn't the same back then. Gee, I wonder if Sara Palin had belonged to the Klan when she was younger would there ever be that open forgiveness? I find it interesting that the articles that mention his Klan involvement limit its mention to a single sentence.

As a matter of fact in a March 4, 2001 interview with Tony Snow, Byrd said of race relations:

“ They're much, much better than they've ever been in my lifetime... I think we talk about race too much. I think those problems are largely behind us... I just think we talk so much about it that we help to create somewhat of an illusion. I think we try to have good will. My old mom told me, 'Robert, you can't go to heaven if you hate anybody.' We practice that. There are white niggers. I've seen a lot of white niggers in my time, if you want to use that word. We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I'd just as soon quit talking about it so much.

Byrd said that his views changed dramatically after his teenage grandson was killed in a 1982 traffic accident, which put him in a deep emotional valley. "The death of my grandson caused me to stop and think," said Byrd, adding he came to realize that black people love their children as much as he does his. (Wow talk about an epiphany!)

I was in the queue and guests had driven a distance to be there. I did the march and sat waiting for my name to be called.

Byrd's speech rambled a bit and at one point he proclaimed that we OWED the state of West Virginia for our education and we could help repay that debt by working in West Virginia, and becoming a West Virginia taxpayer.

I wasn't quite sure how I owed West Virginia ANYTHING. I was not a citizen of West Virginia. I paid out of state tuition and received no scholarship money despite maintaining a GPA of 3.65. I had no interest in staying there. I wanted to move back to the DC area.

Byrd was known for the Prince of Bacon bringing home lots of money for West Virginia. Take a look around West Virginia and you'll more than 30 public works named after him. Much of the money for those projects came from federal money.

Sen. Byrd has set a new standard for taxpayer-funded narcissism by convincing the West Virginia Legislature to erect a statue of himself in the state Capitol. The statue's completion violates state law prohibiting statues of government officials until they have been dead for half a century.

He personally filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for 14 hours and opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

He strongly opposed Clinton's 1993 efforts to allow gays to serve in the military and has also supported efforts to limit gay marriage, in 1996 before with the pending passage of the Defense of Marriage Act he said The drive for same-sex marriage, is, in effect, an effort to make a sneak attack on society by encoding this aberrant behavior in legal form before society itself has decided it should be legal...Let us defend the oldest institution, the institution of marriage between male and female as set forth in the Holy Bible. (Again, imagine how the media will treat Republicans who hold these views think Strom Thurman)

History will judge the longest serving US Senator. Byrd was elected in 1952 and cast 18,000 votes during career. He was obviously loved by many of the people in West Virginia and his shoes will be difficult to fill.

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