Robert Byrd, RIP

Posted June 29, 2010 on 10:51 am | In the category Iraq, Robert Byrd, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

“If I wanted to go crazy, I’d do it in Washington, where they wouldn’t know the difference.” Senator Robert Byrd

Robert Byrd was a man of considerable contradictions. A former member of the Ku Klux Klan, he voted against major Civil Rights legislation in the 60s and voted against confirmation of Thurgood Marshall for the Supreme Court. But later he became a prime fighter against the Republicans’ farce of the day – its “Contract with America”.  He collected billions in “pork’ for his state of West Virginia and   remained a social conservative for much of his tenure.

But this writer’s only personal memory of Senator Byrd is more than enough for him to have earned my enormous respect. During the Democratic Convention held in Boston in 2004 Byrd spoke at the First Parish Church in Cambridge and riveted the crowd with a powerful speech in opposition to Bush’s rush to war in Iraq. His principled opposition failed to carry the day but for at least one hour we had the opportunity to hear a man of conscience deplore an already planned war that would lead to hundreds of thousands of American and (mostly) Iraqi deaths, millions of Iraqis forced from their homes, and actual and committed costs to America of up to $3 trillion, all leading to a semi-free Iraq closely aligned with Iran.

America’s rush to an unnecessary war has left us militarily and economically weaker  with our national reputation sullied. Byrd predicted this and spoke forcefully in opposition to the war, no doubt aware that his was a lost cause. One excerpt from his speech that day catches the full flavor of his remarks that turned out to be, alas, prophetic:

“The foundations of our government have suffered. The liberties enshrined in the  constitution of the United States have  now  been designed by a presidency that is bent on a ruthless pursuit of power. A President that sees himself above the law … a presidency that relies on secrecy and manipulation in order to advance its own partisan agenda. It is the Constitution of the United States that has been undermined, undercut, and is under attack. It is the American people’s liberties that are in jeopardy.”

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