Last week, in one of the more grating speeches of his flailing presidency, Joe Biden asked Americans a series of rhetorical questions that would have challenged a “Jeopardy!” champion.
“Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?” stuttered the president. “Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?” For the record, Wallace, Connor and Davis were all Democrats.
So is West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. Today, perhaps, Democrats should be asking themselves: “Do you want to be on the side of Sen. Manchin or Sen. Byrd?” The right answer might surprise them.
Given his role in refusing to obliterate the filibuster, thereby blocking the comically named “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” Manchin has emerged as the newest villain in the Democrats’ Manichean morality play.
Even the New York Times has noted “the remarkable vitriol being trained by Democratic activists” on Manchin. What the Times has not noted, however, is the love showered on Manchin’s predecessor, the man whose death in 2010 opened the Senate seat for Manchin. That would be Sen. Robert Byrd.
In Barack Obama’s 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” the newly elected senator from Illinois spoke glowingly of Byrd. “Unable to afford college tuition,” Obama writes, “he worked as a meat cutter, a produce salesman, and a welder on battleships during World War II.”
In truth, Byrd’s World War II welding service wasn’t quite as civic minded as Obama made it sound. In the 1940s, having recruited 150 like-minded souls to form a Ku Klux Klan “klavern” in West Virginia, the newly elected “Exalted Cyclops” wrote, “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a negro by my side.”
Byrd continued in his exalted prose, “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.”
To be fair, Obama does acknowledge that Byrd had something of a troubled past, including his resistance to the civil rights acts of the mid-1960s, but given his “populist” – a good word then – voting record, all was forgiven.
“Indeed,” writes Obama in summary, “it was said that Senator Byrd’s passion for the Senate was exceeded only by the tenderness he felt toward his ailing wife of sixty-eight years (who has since passed away) – and perhaps by his reverence for the Constitution.”
In eulogizing Byrd at his 2010 funeral, Obama reused much of the lofty prose from “Audacity” but left all the caveats behind. “He was a Senate icon,” said Obama. “He was a party leader. He was an elder statesman. And he was my friend. That’s how I’ll remember him.” He concluded, “Robert Byrd was a mountain eagle, and his lowest swoop was still higher than the other birds upon the plain.”
The gaseous Joe Biden, then still playing with most of the limited marbles God gave him, went on and on and on at that same funeral about the “Leader,” the only word he used for Byrd.
“He was fiercely devoted, as you’ve all heard, to his principles,” said Biden. “Even once he became power (sic), he always spoke truth to power, standing up for the people he proudly was part of, and you’ve heard it many times today but it bears repeating again, in defense of the Constitution he revered.”
Even in 2010, however, Biden was making gaffes that anticipated his subsequent decline. “It wasn’t just a moral obligation,” he said of Byrd’s debt to the people of West Virginia, “This guy remembered. And he unapologetically – as has been pointed out – did everything to improve the lives of the people of Delaware by stealing all the money from Delaware, Tennessee, Texas, California, that he could possibly get.”
In his bizarre defense of Byrd’s legendary fondness for pork, Joe meant “West Virginia” when he first referred to “Delaware.” In any case, like Obama, the then-vice president made not even an indirect reference to Byrd’s cyclopian past.
They both, however, spoke favorably of Byrd’s respect for the Constitution. As a constitutionalist, NPR tells us, Byrd “defended the filibuster as a Senate tradition and a guarantor of individual senators’ rights.”
Alarmed upon seeing “presidents and majority parties steamrolling the views of the minority,” Byrd went further and engineered what is called the “Byrd rule,” a limitation on reconciliation.
In his defense of the filibuster, Manchin is honoring the better half of Byrd’s legacy. In their unholy obsession with race – the “John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” a case in point – his colleagues and his president are honoring the klavern half.
Jack Cashill’s latest book, “Barack Obama’s Promised Land: Deplorables Need Not Apply,” is now widely available. See www.cashill.com for more information.
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