Oh man. It's a sad day over here at The Anti DC Headquarters (read: the gutter). Senator Robert Byrd's wheelchair has ceased to roll. His shouts of "Barbaric!" now only echo in the cavernous chambers of my craw...and the Internet. Indeed, Ol' Byrd (D-W.Va.) will be missed, and not just because he was a main contender in nearly all of Congress's key coot-offs, but because he also had a rare quality that doesn't usually afflict politicians: He actually seemed to care.
In my old fulltime job (yes, at one point in my life before I cooted myself on the Web, I was actually capable of being employed), I used to write about Congressional budgets, meaning I used to experience Byrd and his lovable Southern drawl in person. I'll never forget the time he wheeled into an appropriations hearing shouting "Make way for liber-tay!" I'll also never forget that he was THE only person in that room who seemed to have a square head on his shoulders (not literally, of course, his head was actually quite round). Yes, Sen. Robert Byrd always got down to business, but at the same time, he never lost his keen wit.
And sure, we made fun of him for being light-years old, but we always knew deep down that we really respected him. Hell, to get so many West Virginian schools, libraries and public buildings to be named after him instead of Mountain Dew, the man must've been doing something right. When he said to the federal government "Give Big Daddy his money!", the federal government sure as hell gave Big Daddy his money.
Of course, Byrd also had his faults, not least of which was that filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That wasn't right. Nor was joining the Ku Klux Klan. That was just gross.
The thing about Byrd, though, is that he was as disgusted about his past as we are. He never tried to justify it. Instead, he did what anyone should do after having been aligned with an organization too heinous to categorize even as scum -- he called it "the greatest mistake" he ever made and apologized profusely and repeatedly: "I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times... and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can't erase what happened," he said in 2005.
And we can't erase you, Robert Byrd, and, save for the first third of your life, we don't really want to. Indeed, you have made way for liber-tay in the halls of Congress. And the time is nigh for you to make way for liber-tay in the afterlife.