Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Amazing Robert Byrd

The death of Senator Robert Byrd (D, WV) will leave a void that I’m not sure will be filled anytime soon. I don't want to make more of him in death than he was in life, and he certainly had his blind spots, but the more I read his words the last couple days, the more I am in awe of his prescience.  This man courageously spoke the truth to power…but power failed to heed his wisdom. From Oct 2009, on the proposed Afghan “surge”:
Mr. President, what is really at stake for the United States in Afghanistan? We all know that Afghanistan is not a threat to us militarily. The Taliban is not a threat to us militarily. Al Qaeda, however, is a demonstrated threat to us with ambitions and a philosophy that must keep us vigilant. But the link between al Qaeda and Afghanistan is a tenuous one, based only on the temporary expediency of location, an expediency that has already been replaced as the al Qaeda leadership has moved, and may move again.

Building a Western-style democratic state in an Afghanistan equipped with a large military and police force and a functioning economy based on something other than opium poppies may or may not deny al Qaeda a safe haven there again. It will guarantee that the United States must invest large numbers of troops and many billions of dollars in Afghanistan for many years to come, energy and funds that might otherwise go toward fueling our own economic recovery, better educating our children or expanding access to health care for more of our own people. And yet there are many here in this body -- the Senate -- who believe we should proceed with such a folly in Afghanistan. During a time of record deficits, some actually continue to suggest that the United States should sink hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars into Afghanistan effectively turning our backs on our own substantial domestic needs -- all the while deferring the costs and the problems for future generations to address.

Our national security interests lie in defeating -- no, in destroying -- al Qaeda. Until we take that, and only that, mission seriously, we risk adding the United States to the long, long, long list of nations whose best laid plans have died on the cold, barren rocky slopes of that far off country of Afghanistan.

Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast (see post on 28 June 2010) addresses the shortcomings of Senator Byrd as a younger man, and lauds his enlightenment later in his life:

The very same people who want to delude themselves that they have a free pass into heaven despite supporting policies that keep people mired in poverty, despite cheating on their wives and getting into bed with corporations that ruin their God's creation, don't want to give a man whose later life was about as solid a demonstration of penitence as I've ever seen, the same chance at redemption. So let them talk about the Klan instead of the apology, let them talk about the mistakes of a young man who was shaped by the most vile practices in this country's history, and who opened his eyes to realize the injustice in which he was raised. Let those who continue to use racist code to dogwhistle to those who would undo all the racial progress of the last fifty years remain focused on a renounced past. Let them project their own bigotry. Because what we honor today is not a life without mistakes, a life of unequivocal virtue. What we honor today is a life which demonstrated the possibility of growth and redemption.

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