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The real Robert Byrd

Posted By -NO AUTHOR- On 01/25/1999 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd has been called many things by his
Democratic colleagues, the president’s surrogates and the media: a
constitutional scholar, a great historian, the Senate’s conscience,
master of
the Senate’s rules, and the like. But one part of Mr. Byrd’s resume is
intentionally ignored. Early in his career, Mr. Byrd was a member of the
Ku
Klux Klan.

According to the Almanac of American Politics, in 1946 Mr. Byrd
campaigned
for a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates. “[H]e campaigned in
every hollow in the county, playing his fiddle and even going to the
length of
joining the Ku Klux Klan (which he quickly quit and has ever since
regretted
joining).”

Yet, the same newspapers and pundits who write and speak of Mr. Byrd
as if
he’s some kind of saint were quick to disparage Representative Bob Barr
for a one-time speech he gave to a group that advocates white
supremacist views. And, it must be said, and said loudly, that Mr. Barr
denies that he had any knowledge of the group’s views at the time of his
speech. But there’s no
doubt that Mr. Byrd knew what the KKK stood for when he joined it during
his first campaign. Nevertheless, he gets a pass. No blistering
editorials; no
news stories; no nightly defamations on the cable shows — all of which
Mr.
Barr experienced.

In the 1960s, Mr. Byrd was one of those senators who liberals used to
hate.
He opposed vigorously federal civil rights legislation. The Almanac of
American Politics states that Mr. Byrd “backed Hubert Humphrey against
John
Kennedy in the 1960 West Virginia presidential primary not because he
shared Humphrey’s liberal politics — his voting record then was as
conservative as any southerner’s and he opposed civil rights — but
because Johnson wanted to stop Kennedy.”

Again, the mainstream media ignore this aspect of Mr. Byrd’s public
record.
But I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. Intellectual dishonesty in
defense
of a double standard is not new. The liberals and the media treated
another
southern senator, the late North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin, the same way.
Mr. Ervin — who some called affectionately “Senator Sam,” led the first

investigation into President Richard Nixon and the Watergate matter.
During
that time Mr. Ervin, like Mr. Byrd, was portrayed as a constitutional
expert
driven by pure intentions. Mr. Ervin — also a one-time segregationist
– was
fawned over. After all, he was doing the Lord’s work.

So, now comes Mr. Byrd — a giant among giants, if you will –
demanding an
immediate end to the Senate’s impeachment trial of his party’s leader.
As
early as today, he intends to make a motion to dismiss the case — on
behalf of the country, of course. And the media hangs on his every word.
And his
Democratic colleagues run to the media repeating his every word while
always reminding us of Mr. Byrd’s preeminence.

Mr. Byrd was among the first and loudest to condemn the House
managers’
questioning yesterday of Monica Lewinsky. How dare those uppity
partisans
from the lowly House of Representatives insist on presenting their case!
How
dare they question Miss Lewinsky without Mr. Byrd’s consent!

While it’s true that Mr. Byrd has written about and studied the
Senate, we
need not rely on his daily pronouncements to tell us what the
Constitution
means. Rather, we should rely on the words of the true experts of the
Constitution — namely, the fifty-five framers of the Constitution.
There’s
little Mr. Byrd can add to their wisdom. At his core, Mr. Byrd is, like
most
other politicians, a partisan. That’s not a fault or a weakness, just a
fact.
He runs against Republican opponents to win his office, he’s a member of
the
Senate Democratic Caucus, he attends the Democratic national nominating
conventions, and he once served as the Democrats’ Senate majority
leader.
And, of course, he now seeks to circumvent his president’s impeachment
trial
through early dismissal.

Mr. Byrd opposes deposing witnesses. He opposes trial testimony from
witnesses. He objected to House managers talking with Miss Lewinsky. By
leading the dismissal effort, he must argue that either: 1. The House
managers have failed to prove Mr. Clinton’s guilt while, at the same
time, he’s working hard to impede their prosecution by objecting to
witness testimony; or, 2. The House’s articles of impeachment on perjury
and obstruction of justice “do not rise to the level of impeachable
offenses.” This, from the conscience of the Senate? Any senator who
sounds like Chris Dodd, and acts like Tom Harkin, can hardly be
considered the conscience of the Senate.


Mark R. Levin Markrlevin@aol.com is president of Landmark Legal
Foundation.


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