Posted by: Roncevert | July 7, 2010

Adieu Senator Robert C. Byrd

Capitol Flag at Half-Staff

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, from Sophia, West Virginia, was a Senator for 51 years and a member of the House for 6 years, making him the longest-serving member of the Senate and Congress in U.S. history. He held nearly every top leadership post in the Senate, including Majority Leader, chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, and President Pro Tempore, a ceremonial position that also put Byrd third in the line of presidential succession.

He died on June 28, 2010, at the age of 92. On July 1st I ventured to the U.S. Senate to pay my respects to Sen. Byrd, who lay in repose, as his family received condolences from Senators and Congressman, including Senator Rockefeller.  That evening I took a bike ride and took a picture of the U.S. Capitol flag at half-staff in honor of this great statesman.

Sen. Byrd's Statue at the WV State Capital Rotunda

Others have articulated compelling tributes to Sen. Byrd from President Obama’s observation that he safeguarded our country’s institutions to a scholar in the New York Times noting the philological soundness of Sen. Byrd’s quotes of Shakespeare on the Senate floor.  One of my favorite anecdotes is Sen. Byrd’s long journey through law school.  He attended night school at American University’s Washington School of Law for 10 years — as a Congressman and with only 70 prior hours of college credit!   Sen. Byrd later reflected that earning a law degree “gave [him] confidence.  He was now part of the club, “one of the hewers of wood and carriers of water” within Congress.  The JD enabled him “to better organize [his] thoughts” and “understand a lot more about history.” Certainly, Sen. Byrd’s respect for history, in particular classical, was echoed in his speeches including his famous denunciation of the 2002 Iraq use of force resolution.  To me, the Senator’s achievement also reflected his life-long journey of continual improvement through learning and the acquisition of knowledge.

In other words, I believe Sen. Byrd realized the essential truth of life articulated by Vico that men make their own history, that what they can know is what they have made.  Sen. Byrd revisited and reinterpreted history in order to build an entire institution in his image, the modern U.S. Senate.  In honoring our institutions, Sen. Byrd created a discourse whose material presence gave rise to new political realities and embedded constitutional norms.

In his personal life, Sen. Byrd, determined to overcome life’s apparent limitations, authored his own story. Rising from the poverty of the coal fields he reached the pinnacle of power during his political epoch.  He did not let the past overwhelm him, but instead fulfilled Michel Foucault’s observation that identity is repeatedly constructed; his “truth” would be validated and re-validated against a lifelong transformation. In writing his own narrative, he chose wisely and a nation benefited.

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Responses

  1. Ronce,

    Reality and Truth are discovered by each generation as we struggle with the ‘up-againstness’ of life.
    Great leaders like Senator Byrd discover that ‘mother-lode’ of Reality and Truth we call GOD.
    Your appreciation of his life, experienced to the fullness, is noted to be a challenge to do like-wise.

    Also with respect,

    Greenbrier


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