Fulcrum Ruminations

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Good, Bad, Other

Senator Robert Byrd has died. His career in Congress is highly instructive, for Byrd exemplified both the best and worst aspects of our Congress.

As both the longest serving Senator and the longest serving member of Congress, Byrd shows one of the fundamental problems with that branch of government - People who get in and essentially take root, gaming the system to make it very hard for a challenger to dislodge them. It's hard to claim with any credibility that someone who's been sitting in the same seat for fifty years can bring very many fresh ideas to the issues and problems of the day. Byrd was locked into, and epitomizes, the Washington "system".

And yet, at the same time Byrd was bringing a lot of benefits to his constituents back home in West Virginia. He was unsurpassed in the art of steering pork to his state. West Virginia saw federal benefits far out of proportion to its population or its contribution. It can be argued that West Virginia needed this level of support due to the poverty and lack of opportunity afflicting many of its residents, but one must still wonder if some of those resources might have been better expended somewhere else.

Byrd had a checkered past. In his younger days he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and supported segregationist, if not outright racist, positions and policies. Later in his career he repudiated these positions, however, and often expressed regret for his actions. One is forced to wonder how much of that regret is for the injustice of his positions and how much is for the damage it did to his political career. Because over the course of his long service, Byrd showcased the tendency of our Congressmen to regard maintaining themselves in office as their primary responsibility.

Either way, a long and varied career has now ended, and just a few days shy of the July 4th celebration of America's birth. Fare thee well, Senator.

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