Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia died on Monday, at the age of 92. I'll leave the obituaries to more capable hands, but I have one particularly powerful memory of Byrd I'd like to relate.
In early October of 2002, the Senate debated - and ultimately passed - what became known as the Iraq War resolution. This pre-dated my blog, but I wrote about it on an earlier incarnation of my web site:
I headed up I-95 toward Pete's house in Casco, Maine on Friday afternoon, October 4th. The weather forecast had been changing all week, going from fair to bad to fair; on Thursday night we decided to just go for it, and hope the weather gods would take pity on us. I drove north through grey skies and occasional drizzle, which matched my rather somber mood. The Senate had taken up Bush's request for a free hand with Iraq. The debate between Senators Robert Byrd and John Warner was a rare display of passionate, yet civil debate. Byrd said at one point:You can find the full text of the debate on Thomas, the the official home of the Congressional Record. It's a little tricky to link to a specific page on Thomas, but if you follow this link and then find the link to page S9955, you'll be able to find it. The transcript is well worth reading.
The Framers were very wise when they determined that these two matters--the decision to go to war and the making of war--should be in two different places. The decision, the determination to declare war, should flow from this branch, the people's branch, and the matter of making war should be in the hands of a unified commander, the Commander in Chief. What are we doing? In my view, if we accept this resolution as it is written, we are saying both of these vital functions would be placed in the hands of one man. And what did Madison say? He said: The trust and the temptation are too great for any one man.
Pretty heady stuff, considering the usual tone of Washington politics.
Byrd was one of only 23 senators who ultimately voted against the war. Among those who voted for the authorization to go to war:
- John Kerry
- Hillary Clinton
- Harry Reid
- Christopher Dodd
- Dianne Feinstein
- Charles Schumer