BYRD’S PASSAGE: Robert Byrd, who died on June 28 at 92, was born less than a lifetime after the founders of the American experiment. The longest-serving senator breathed his first just ninety-one years after Thomas Jefferson breathed his last, and Byrd’s transit of the arc of history provides one of the most redemptive stories of this nation’s progress. Infamously, the West Virginia Democrat was a member of the Ku Klux Klan in his youth, and as a senator in 1964 he filibustered the Civil Rights Act for fourteen hours—decisions he would later apologize for. His evolution began during the Watergate battles, when he turned on the lawless administration of Richard Nixon— who had considered nominating Byrd for the Supreme Court—and developed the line of questioning that led to John Dean’s explosive testimony and the end of Nixon’s presidency.
Byrd’s evolution continued in the wake of 9/11, when he became an eloquent antiwar critic of the Bush administration on the Senate floor. Speaking of the impending invasion of Iraq in early 2003, he warned, “We may get lucky and achieve a rapid victory. But then we will face a second war: a war to win the peace in Iraq. This war will last many years and will surely cost hundreds of billions of dollars.” Byrd decried the complacency of the Senate, declaring as the war progressed that “the right to ask questions, debate and dissent is under attack. The drums of war are beaten ever louder in an attempt to drown out those who speak of our predicament in stark terms. Even in the Senate, our history and tradition of being the world’s greatest deliberative body is being snubbed.” The snubbing continues, but those who honor the senator’s legacy would do well to recognize the wisdom the founders— and Byrd—saw in saying no to presidents, regardless of party, and especially in times of war. JOHN NICHOLS
THE KING BEATER: NASCAR legend Richard Petty is known as “the King” in North Carolina. So when he ran for secretary of state as a Republican in 1996, everyone presumed he was unbeatable—until he lost by more than 200,000 votes to State Senator Elaine Marshall. Defeating Petty should have put Marshall on national radar screens, but when she decided to run for the Senate this year, Washington Democrats handpicked their own candidate, Cal Cunningham, a telegenic Iraq War vet, to run against her. That plan backfired when Marshall routed Cunningham in the June 22 primary runoff, setting up a November showdown with incumbent Senator Richard Burr.
It was a victory for the progressive groups that unsuccessfully backed Bill Halter over Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, including MoveOn.org and Democracy for America, which supported Marshall. A 65-year-old former teacher, craft store owner and lawyer, Marshall is not exactly an outsider, having served in elected office for a decade and a half. But she ran a savvy anti-establishment, progressive-populist campaign in the primary, defeating what she called “a committee of Washington insiders” by touting her oppo- sition to the surge in Afghanistan and support for healthcare legislation that included a public option and Wall Street reform.
Polls now put Marshall within striking distance of Burr. She gave a fiery performance in their first debate on June 26 in Wilmington, assailing BP‘s recklessness in the Gulf of Mexico and corporate-friendly trade deals that shipped North Carolina jobs overseas. When asked what Congress should do to prevent another massive spill, an oddly com- placent Burr responded, “Whatever we craft to stop people from cheating, we’re just not smart enough to stop cheaters.” That’s not much of a slogan for a re-election campaign—and just as Marshall left Petty in her dust fifteen years ago, she may be gearing up to do the same to Burr this fall. ARI BERMAN
HONDURANS RISE UP: On the anniversary of the June 28, 2009, military coup that deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, the opposition took over the nation’s highways, overtly resisting the continuation of the coup regime under President Porfirio Lobo Sosa. In Choloma, protesters from the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, the broad coalition uniting social movements throughout the country, shut down the main highway to the port. More than 200,000 marchers occupied the boulevards of Tegucigalpa, and protesters shut down the nation’s main arteries in El Progreso, Santa Rita, Choluteca, Santa Barbara, La Ceiba and Tocoa.
President Lobo, tutored closely by Washington, is desperate to present his administration as a “government of national reconciliation.” In February he unveiled, with much fanfare, a truth commission to investigate the coup’s transgressions, but it has been largely discredited by the resistance, which marked the anniversary by unveiling its own truth commission. The country’s ruling elites want nothing of concessions, even cosmetic ones, and are now turning on Lobo. In May the Supreme Court fired five judicial officials who opposed the coup. Despite at least fifty assassinations of opponents of the regime and more than 3,000 recorded detentions since the coup, impunity reigns, and critics claim the Public Ministry refuses to prosecute a single case.
Lobo’s government is collapsing on all sides. The Obama administration continues to shore up Lobo and the Honduran military, to its shame. DANA FRANK
JEFFERSON’S HEIR: Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans spent the first day of Elena Kagan‘s confirmation hearings attacking the Supreme Court nominee for her association with former Justice Thurgood Marshall. The civil rights champion and first African-American on the High Court was dismissed by Alabama’s Jeff Sessions as a “well-known activist” and by Arizona’s Jon Kyl as embracing a “judicial philosophy [that] is not what I would consider to be mainstream.”
Instead of abandoning her mentor, Kagan sided with Marshall, insisting that “the constitutional law that we live under does develop over time,” and in some cases “the original intent is unlikely to solve the question…because we live in a world that’s very different from the world in which the framers lived.” Republicans decried her “expansive” view of matters constitutional. But Kagan has an important ally. “We have not yet so far perfected our constitutions as to venture to make them unchangeable,” declared Thomas Jefferson, who observed that “the real friends of the Constitution in its federal form, if they wish it to be immortal, should…make it keep pace with the advance of the age.” JOHN NICHOLS