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On Byrd and Kennedy

Published by Tim McNulty on .

Byrd & Kennedy

Eleanor Clift at Newsweek writes about the deep connections between two Senate icons, Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy:

One of the more recent and enduring images of Senator Byrd, which is available on YouTube, shows him openly weeping at the news that Sen. Ted Kennedy had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I remember seeing it and thinking that I hadn’t realized the two men were that close. I later learned how Byrd had rebuilt their relationship after unseating Kennedy as majority whip in January 1971, an especially painful blow to Kennedy 18 months after Chapaquiddick. It was a bitter and contentious battle. Kennedy thought he had the post locked down, and Byrd led him to believe he had given up and gone home to West Virginia. But he snuck back into town and beat him in the end, 31 to 24, creating a major fissure between the two. Kennedy would later thank Byrd for defeating him, saying it freed him to focus on issues rather than procedural fights and caucus politics.

Byrd found his opportunity to get back in Kennedy’s good graces by distancing himself from a president he never liked—Jimmy Carter—and supporting Kennedy’s 1980 bid for the presidency. Byrd thought Carter didn’t show proper respect for the Congress, treating it like the Georgia legislature. Every chance he could, Byrd stuck it to Carter and pushed Kennedy as the candidate of the Senate Democrats. In many ways, Byrd had more in common with the culturally conservative Carter than he did with the liberal lion, but he joined forces with Kennedy on more government spending for social programs, and Kennedy in turn brought him along on civil-rights legislation, helping him to bury his long ago past as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

A funny anecdote from Todd Purdum at Vanity Fair:

He was an original, a type never to be seen again in the capital. In a discussion of gays in the military with fellow Senators and President Bill Clinton early in the latter’s first term, Byrd discoursed on military homosexuality in antiquity in piquant and detailed terms that, Clinton later recalled, left Ted Kennedy looking like he was either going to start giggling or jump out the window.

Photo: AP. Byrd and Kennedy in Logan, W.Va., in November 2000.

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