Bob Franken

Robert Byrd’s Supreme Irony

If, in fact, we do get to look back after death, Robert Byrd would probably be proud that his came on a day when the United States Senate was once again playing one of its most primal roles.

He had after all, spent more than half a lifetime jealously defending the rules, peculiarities and turf of the Senate and protecting against almost any smart alecky attempt at reform.

He succumbed in the predawn hours of a morning when the Senate was scheduled to begin exercising its Constitutional mandate to give “Advice and Consent”. Using the current media construct, this is Day One of the hearings leading up to a vote on whether to confirm Elena Kagan, the President’s nominee to join the Supreme Court.

It’s pure Separation of Powers, the kind of stuff which would make Senator Byrd swell with pride. Unfortunately these hearings are a showcase of another Senate tradition: bombast.

Day One is devoted to opening statements from committee members. This is where they display an amazing talent to use a lot of words to say very little.

After each and every speaker gives a verbal homage to their “Dear Friend” Senator Byrd, and maybe even brush away a tear or two, they then get on to the partisan business at hand, in the inimitable way of the Senate.

It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to predict the speeches. Democrats and Republicans alike are predicatbly embracing this opportunity to “examine her record” and engage in an “open discussion about issues”. Never mind that there won’t be anything of the sort, that’s what they always say.

The Dems are ready to embrace Kagan’s brilliance and accomplishments and maybe laud the fact she will bring a fresh perspective to the court since she comes from “outside the judicial” monastery, because she’s never been a judge.

Never mind that she argued as Solicitor General before the same justices she’ll presumably be joining and never mind she hails from the same Ivy League monastery as every other one of them…she’s offering something new. Or so the Democrats’ argument goes.

Republicans? After the same “examine her record” and “open discussion about the issues” platitudes, they’ll raise “concerns” about the very lack of judge experience the other side is “lauding”. (“Concerns” and “Lauding” are Senate-speak-roughly translated, they mean “Seeking partisan advantage”).

The GOP committee members will drone on about their “concerns” over “judicial activism” (same meaning) and “liberal agenda (ditto) and their demands the nominee give specific answers to their questions about specific issues.

All of this takes a whole day because even though long time committee Joe Biden has rambled on to another setting, there is a whole set of member ready to fill his verbosity gap. When they finally all have their last gasp they will have set up Kagan’s appearance Tuesday, where she will spend the rest of the week NOT giving specific answers to specific questions. The twaddle will flap in frustration.

It can be mesmerizing (hypnotic) or mesmerizing (sleep inducing). It is fascinating to watch to see if something unexpected happens to turn this from the usual mush to some sort of surprise that matches the long past glory days of the Clarence Thomas hearings.

Through it all, perhaps Bobby Byrd will be looking on and smiling. Many of us mortals will be cringing.

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