I met Senator Robert C. Byrd, along with Senator Jennings Randolph, when I was in sixth grade. I was twelve; Byrd was — well, quite a bit older. As a twelve-year-old, I wasn't at all interested in what Byrd had to say or who he was. I knew his name and I knew he was a politician of some sort, but beyond that, he was just some dude in a bad suit.
Over the next several years, I saw more and more things emblazoned with this man's name. One of the most memorable for me was Valley Drive in Beckley, which was renamed Robert C. Byrd Drive in the late 80s or early 90s. Blasphemy! Scandal! It got so bad, there was an article in Graffiti (before it sucked) which proposed several other (ridiculous) things which could be named after the senator — the Robert C. Byrd Memorial Tree, for example.
Yep, poking at local politicians is a lot of fun when you're relatively uninformed and isolated from them, save for the occasional freeway or bridge or building bearing their name.
I don't think it was until Byrd took a stand against George W. Bush's decision on striking Iraq that I started paying attention:
"This war will last many years and will surely cost hundreds of billions of dollars. In light of this enormous task, it would be a great mistake to expect that this will be a replay of the 1991 war. The stakes are much higher in this conflict."
Seven years and $3 trillion later... well, you get the idea.
And then there was the wiretapping scandal. That was probably the angriest I've ever been at our elected leaders, because the one who was doing it... did it, and the ones who should have stopped him... didn't. I, for one, was ready for a revolution. Byrd said this:
"The American public is given vague and empty assurances by the President that amount to little more than 'trust me.' But, we are a nation of laws and not of men. Where is the source of that authority he claims? I defy the Administration to show me where in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or the U.S. Constitution, they are allowed to steal into the lives of innocent American citizens and spy."
How about that — he of the bad suits from my youth (turns out they were all bad suits back then), he of the many bridges and such, actually made a lot of sense. Thank you, Senator. Requiescat in pace — montani semper liberi.