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Apr 8, 2004 10:38 pm

Is Dodd on Byrd Like Lott on Thurmond?

Following Derek Catsam's commentary here, Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit has additional updates on Senator Thomas Dodd's tribute to West Virginia Senator and former Klansman Robert Byrd. (Actually, if you scroll up and down at Instapundit, you'll find a good bit of commentary. The story has passed beyond the Righty bloggers to Fox and Roll Call). Of particular interest at Instapundit is Jim Lindgren's effort to put Dodd's and Byrd's remarks in some historical perspective. Surely, if Dodd is to be indicted for poor judgment in his tribute to Byrd, the AHA might be similarly embarrassed. As one who fed the public frenzy that led to Senator Lott's ouster as Majority Leader in the Senate and who was critical of the AHA's granting Byrd the inaugural Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award for Civil Service, I still doubt that the two situations meet Tim Burke's criteria for the usefulness of historical analogies. Having said that, it is surprising how inadept Dodd's office has been in handling the situation. As Glenn Reynolds observes:"Like Lott, he could have shut this down early with a simple statement that he didn't mean that the U.S. would have been better off with a Grand Kleagle in charge during the Civil War. How hard is that?"
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Derek Charles Catsam - 4/9/2004

Obviously I left a gap in my argument -- that is PRECISELY my point. To ascribe political sentiments during the Civil War to someone today is ridiculous (though I would argue that where one practices politics is more important than birth -- lots of Northern-born folks who moved to the South supported the Confederacy and vice versa) and it is so blatantly, obviously, blindingly driven by a present-day political agenda and not a reasoned desire to ascertain some historial truth. Of course Dodd opened that can of worms. Sullivan just spilled it everywhere.

Ralph E. Luker - 4/8/2004

I'm not sure that I agree either with Derek's point -- that West Virginia's unionist history weighs in Byrd's favor (pardon if I mischaracterize your point; correct me if I'm wrong) -- or with Michael's point -- that Byrd's North Carolina nativity weighs against him (pardon if I mischaracterize your point; correct me if I'm wrong). There's really very little nobility in West Virginia's secession in the Civil War crisis. That section of Virginia had a long history of struggle with the sections to the east. It had very little investment in defense of slavery and much to loose in a struggle which was not its own. It seems very like a reasonable acting on self interest. I do think that Byrd's North Carolina nativity helps somewhat to explain his Klansmanship, but as a Southerner whose grandfather was named for Nathan Bedford Forrest I fervently hope that we hold individuals accountable for their actions and don't tar them by birth or family.

Michael C Tinkler - 4/8/2004

Except that Sen. Byrd isn't from West Virginia by birth. He was born in North Carolina - and during the 1860s his Kleagle-like behavior might have been more effective there than in West Virginia.

Derek Charles Catsam - 4/8/2004

Ralph --
Obviously this story has legs, at least in the blogosphere. I think you and Glen Reynolds are absolutely right -- irrespective of the opportunism of his detractors, Dodd is clearly handling this very, very badly. That said, not only do I maintain that the analogy between Lott and Dodd is bad, I still stand by my assertion that those who are managing to truncate a century of history are being, to be kind, foolish. How can one possibly say what figure X would or would not have done a century ago, especially given West Virginia's historic role in gaining its very existence by opposing slavery. No one has yet seen fit to explain this. What Byrd might have done in 1860 is a thought exercise for the Hannity, Limbaugh, and, alas, Sullivans cravenly to manipulate and speculate. But what Thurmond did do is another matter entirely. Byrd is an embarassment. Dodd has been maladroit. But that is where the similarities end.

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