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.