Byrd! Thou should’st be living at this hour

The political debate over the use of the Senate’s filibuster rule to torpedo President Bush’s judicial nominees in 2005 triggered a series of reversals and pratfalls that support the low-comedy version of democratic politics. Among the most notable examples was the profile of former Ku Klux Klan kleagle and civil rights obstructionist Robert Byrd as a cornpone constitutionalist by reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg in — where else? — the New York Times. Stolberg served up the classic New York Times profile “Master of Senate’s Ways Still Parries in His Twilight.” Twilight zone would have been more like it, but we got the point.

What did Byrd do to earn such a glowing profile? It was about this time that Byrd was warning (Republican) Senate Majority Leader Frist against “Hamanizing” the Senate. Byron York recounted Byrd’s memorable speech in the former world’s greatest deliberative body:

“I think it would be especially good for the distinguished majority leader to be reminded of the Book of Esther in the Bible,” Byrd began.

“I won’t go into it all here, but Esther was a Jew. She had a cousin who sat at the king’s gate every day. He was a Jew. His name was Mordecai. The word went out that a man who had been favored by the king, a man named Haman — H-A-M-A-N, I believe it is. Here is my Bible. This is the King James version of the Bible. I don’t read any other version of the Bible except the King James Version. I speak as a born-again Christian. We hear that thrown around a lot around here. I am a born-again Christian and have been since 1946.”

You have to be patient listening to Byrd; it takes him a while to get to his point. Making liberal use of the tradition of unlimited debate in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, he continued:

“My wife and I will soon be married, the Lord willing, in about 16 or 17 more days, 68 years. We were both put under the water in that old churchyard pool under the apple orchard in West Virginia, the old Missionary Baptist Church there. Both Erma and I went under the water. So I speak as a born-again Christian.

“You hear that term thrown around. I have never made a big whoop-de-do about being a born-again Christian, but I speak as a born-again Christian. HEAR ME, ALL YOU EVANGELICALS OUT THERE! HEAR ME!”

As the nation’s evangelicals listened intently, Byrd recounted the story of Haman, “the chief leader there of King Ahasuerus.”

“Well, time went on and old Haman was advised by his people to build a gallows and hang on those gallows Mordecai, and on that same day to kill all the Jews throughout the 127 provinces of Persia,” Byrd said.

“I will go to the point of the story quickly,” Byrd continued, slowly. “It ended with Haman, the man who built the gallows on which to hang Mordecai, himself being hanged on those gallows. It did not stop there. The 10 sons of Haman were executed on those gallows, also.”

Got that, Sen. Frist? Your sons, too.

“Remember Haman,” Byrd told the majority leader. “The leader and his party may someday be on the same gallows that we in the minority find ourselves on today, ‘Hamanized.’ Do not travel that path because the leader and his party may someday be executed on the same gallows. Think about it. Do not ‘Hamanize’ the Senate of the United States.”

C-SPAN has the video here. I’m also posting it below. You don’t want to miss this.

In 2005, according to Byrd, the story had a happy ending. The filibuster was preserved. In his statement at the press conference announcing the 2005 agreement that preserved the Senate filibuster, abrogated this week, Byrd celebrated himself as a latter-day Horatius protecting the integrity of the United States Senate: “We have lifted ourselves above politics, and we have signed this document in the interests of the United States Senate, in the interest of freedom of speech, freedom of debate and freedom to dissent in the United States Senate,” Byrd said. “Thank God for this moment and for these colleagues of mine.”

Wherever he is now, the late KKK kleagle and cornpone constitutionalist must be laughing his head off.

H/t: Reader Rick Adams.


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