Senator Robert Byrd’s office issued a defense of his remarks comparing Republican attempts to bar filibusters on judicial nominations with Naziism in the Senate earlier this week. Unfortunately, it appears that Byrd’s staff suffers from the same incoherence that afflicts their boss most of the time:
Sen. Robert Byrd’s description of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was meant as a warning to heed the past and not as a comparison to Republicans, a spokesman for the West Virginia Democrat says. …
“Terrible chapters of history ought never be repeated,” said Tom Gavin, spokesman for Byrd. “All one needs to do is to look at history to see how dangerous it is to curb the rights of the minority.”
Put aside all of the historical inaccuracies that one has to swallow for that argument to work, such as the fact that the Enabling Law basically abdicated the Reichstag and made Hitler a dictator, and that the Brown Shirts had driven most of Hitler’s political opponents out of the Reichstag by that time anyway. If we are to take Byrd’s comments at face value, how can we not come to the conclusion that he sees the GOP as a malevolent threat on the order of Hitler? After all, if Republicans simply represent legitimate political opposition in Byrd’s mind, then he would argue against their position based on the merits of the case. That’s not what Byrd did. He deliberately and repeatedly mentioned Hitler and the Nazis to imply that as the end result we would face if the Republicans limited debate on judicial nominations.
If he had meant to say that taking away the filibuster would lead to the tyranny of the majority, then all Byrd would have to use would be the lower chamber of Congress as an example, and not the Nazis. That has really been the issue with a few traditionalists in the Senate; they don’t want to be a senior House and like their ability to extend debate. However, for Byrd to argue that, he would have to defend his record for changing the cloture rule four times to suit his own purposes during his tenure as Majority Leader two decades ago.
No, Byrd meant to smear the GOP as a second coming of the goose-stepping Nazis, but perhaps he thought that the speech would garner notice only from the DC inside circles and the Democrats’ MoveOn base, which didn’t exactly shy away from making the same comparison all during the presidential election (or even afterward, as Janeane Garofalo proved after the State of the Union speech). His mistake was getting caught — and his office’s mistake will be in resisting an apology for it.
Byrd occupies no leadership positions in the Democratic Senate, but his seat comes up for election next year. All indications are that Byrd intends on running for re-election. Perhaps this episode will finally convince West Virginians to retire this doddering old fool.