All errors should be reported to

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Gollum Old Party

The last time I saw Bob Byrd was during his last political campaign in October 2006. At 88, he was 20 years past what should have been a normal retirement. But there he sat across from the Daily Mail editorial board (I was a member then) reading talking points from a loose-leaf notebook written by his staff, which controlled him like the title character in "Weekend At Bernie's."

His arms flapped the whole time. They called it a benign tremor. If he had any strength in those 88-year-old arms, Byrd would have flown out of the room.

Of course the board of the nominally conservative newspaper endorsed the Exalted Cyclops over Republican John Raese. Only two of us believed once a klansman, always a klansman. He died mid-term and the board endorsed Raese to succeed him. But Democrat Joe Manchin won.

But the lesson in this is that Byrd sought power and achieved it. He was a brilliant and well-read man. But he missed the whole point of Lord Acton's admonishment: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you super add the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority."

We truncate that to power corrupts, but the full quote puts it in a better light.

Power is addictive.

It is corrosive.

Like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Byrd hung on to the ring of power too long.

Ted Kennedy too.

The list is long. The list is bipartisan. The list reflects a Congress that is too powerful.

The political parties are run by Gollums. The Clintons have hung on to power too long. The Congressional Black Caucus, too. Pelosi. Hoyer. Most of the Senate. The Republican House leadership is younger and more relevant. You don't have to agree with Paul Ryan to appreciate his youth and freshness.

But once, Byrd was young. Ted Kennedy too.

By the way, I had tremors occasionally a few years ago. They magically went away once I retired.


  1. In the year 2002, 80 year-old Fritz Hollings was in his final term in the U.S. Senate. To that point, he had been in the Senate for over 35 years, and for that entire span, he was always the Junior Senator from South Carolina. If their staff could figure out a way to nominate a cadaver, guys like Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd would still be there today.

  2. In Congress seniority is the sure path to power, another reason Rubio and Cruz have few accomplishments or allies. These old guys are reelected because the resulting seniority brings tangible benefits to their voters. Term limits will never happen for that reason alone. "The people" enjoy this absolute corruption and find nothing wrong with it when it benefits them over their neighbors

  3. There's a good one for you, the "Congressional Black Caucus." Imagine the outcry if there was a "Congressional White Caucus." - Elric

  4. Surber believes that Byrd is "once a klansman, always a klansman." But Surber has no problem believing Trump can go from "very pro choice" to pro-life in a matter of months. Interesting.

    1. There is something you're neglecting about the Klan thing. The 2d incarnation of the Klan was founded in 1915 coincident to the distribution of the film Birth of a Nation. After some modifications in its membership requirements in 1920, it grew very large very quickly, having around 4-6 million notional members ca. 1923. It then imploded, and by 1935 was an organization with a five digit membership. It was formally dissolved in 1944. For Byrd to be organizing Klaverns in 1942 was a bit like someone holding War Bond rallies in 1963: rather passe and out of place. Also, West Virginia is part of the upland South and has a small black population. The generic disposition of the upland South on social questions did not incorporate much rent-free space in the head for racial matters. Ted Kennedy said he joined the Klan to get elected, which is an inane libel at most Southern segregationists and particularly at West Virginia pols. His predecessor, Chapman Revercomb, had no truck with segregationist or anti-black politics. Ditto his sidekick Jennings Randolph, who was a conventional labor-oriented New Deal Democrats. I'm not sure you could locate anyone OTHER than Byrd who represented West Virginia in Congress between 1938 and 1972 who promoted segregation or black-baiting. Mr. Surber may know.

  5. Here's an interesting insight on the Trump and establishment conflict:

  6. Hahaha Big D...awesome post! I had no fingernails until I retired and now my wife has to clip them regularly so I can play my Ukelele!

    1. ukelele

      That's ukulele, from the Hawaiian, lit. translates as "jumping" (lele) "flea" (uku), thought to be from the nickname of Edward Purvis, who popularized the instrument (orig. brought to Hawaii by the Portuguese) around the end of the 19th C.

      The trivia I've collected over the years could fill a book.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Paul Ryan has spent his entire adult life in elected posts or political staff jobs. That's not optimal for a member of Congress. The one thing he might do going forward which did not involve leveraging political connections would be to work as a fitness instructor (his hobby); even to do that, he might need some occupational certifications to get hired. Kevin McCarthy is older than Ryan, but has a background in business. Do you recall how rapidly Mark Foley resigned from Congress and left town? Well, contra Anthony Weiner, Foley had spent much of his life running restaurants and selling real estate. There was a job (and, by some accounts, a butt-buddy) waiting for him back home.

    With regard to Byrd, he'd had a series of wage jobs between 1936 and 1946, but had schooled himself in no particular trade. He had no military service, which is interesting as military service was bog standard for men born in 1917 and even had he had dependent children when conscription was instituted in 1940, he'd still likely have been drafted in the last two years of the war after the dispensation for fathers was suspended in the fall of 1943. He did earn a law degree, but he did so while holding elective office and never actually practiced.