Robert Byrd’s Identification with the Framers

March 4, 2005

We all know that the venerable Robert Byrd, august Senator from West Virginia, considers himself the designated guardian of sacred Senate lore. Mr. Byrd, because of his pride in Senate history, as opposed to his own history, is deemed by liberals to be the repository of constitutional wisdom. This wily man, the Paragon of Pork, yesterday penned an op-ed in the Washington Post titled, “Nuking Free Speech,” in which he lambasted GOP Senators for even considering the mislabeled “nuclear option” to cut off filibuster-length debates to thwart the president’s judicial nominees. Senator Byrd, as incoherent as he routinely is of late, did a pretty masterful job of obfuscating and distorting the issue.

Yes, you see, Senator Byrd managed in his op-ed to turn the tables on Republicans who merely want to impose a rule to allow the majority to close debate after a reasonable — and I do mean reasonable — amount of time has been permitted for the opposition to voice its objections ten times over. Senator Byrd cagily (forgive me if that verb conjures the corny pun-ish image of Senator Bird in a cage), accused Republicans, not of wanting to press for an up or down vote on the president’s judicial nominees, but of trying to prevent Democrats from registering their objections. In other words, Republicans are the bad guys because they want to deprive Senate Democrats of their free speech. You’ll forgive me again if I wretch. Senator Byrd wrote:

To understand the danger, one needs to understand the Senate. The Framers created an institution designed not for speed or efficiency but as a place where mature wisdom would reside. They intended the Senate to be the stabilizer, the fence, the check on attempts at tyranny. To carry out that role, an individual senator has the right to speak, perhaps without limit, in order to expose an issue or draw attention to new or differing viewpoints. But this legislative nuclear option would mute dissent and gag opposition voices.

Yes, the Framers designed the Senate to be a deliberative body, but not one to facilitate minority tyranny. Pay particular attention to his phrase “perhaps without limit.” Now where oh where does this man come up with that? “Perhaps without limit?” So theoretically, then, a recalcitrant, obstructionist minority would be within its moral bounds and have the blessing of the Framers if it stalled without limit for the purpose of preventing the majority from getting a vote? How can any reasonable person think that a body that has to complete business argue that an individual in that body has the right to speak — perhaps without limit? Well, how about 100 times infinity? Let’s just have all 100 Senators speak without limit and never get anything done. Such a prescription for Senate inaction would be a grand thing but for all the miserable and oppressive laws the Congress has already passed, which need to be undone, and but for the business the Senate must engage in to keep government positions filled, as in confirming presidential nominees.

It’s hard for me to believe anybody takes this guy seriously. He should consider a second career in criminal defense, since he’s obviously an expert in putting the victim on trial. But something else beyond Senator Byrd’s direct words caught my attention. I was reading a thread about his op-ed yesterday — I believe on in which a thoughtful poster raised the question as to how liberals like Senator Byrd could actually identify with the framers of the Constitution. I have considered that before, though not in great depth, and would like to offer a few thoughts on it in a later post — since this one is running a bit long. Besides, I consider this present post a discussion, perhaps without limit, that needs to end — NOW. But one of my run on sentences above was, admittedly, fun writing even if it’s incomprehensible.