The longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history died this week. His legacy is complex. Byrd was a master of constitutional detail. He knew the history of the Senate like no other. He once was a member of the KKK, but transformed himself into a leading civil-rights activist. Byrd also was able to funnel billions of dollars into his home state of West Virginia.
It’s the last description that, in its way, is most admirable.
Byrd didn’t hide behind some high-minded rhetoric that sought to justify locating dozens of federal offices in West Virginia. He called himself the “Big Daddy” of congressional spending. He was proud of all the pork he ladled into his state. He made no apologies for it.
And for all the money Byrd guided into his state, his constituents loved him for it. They sent him back to the Senate during the course of nine elections. But, man, he surely got others around the country to grind their teeth in disgust.
Mac Thornberry is one House member who speaks ill of the earmarks that made people such as Byrd famous — or infamous, depending on your point of view. He wins high praise from his constituents for the criticism he lays at the feet of House colleagues who spend so much of our tax money on these pork-barrel projects.
It all makes me wonder: Would we begrudge our own House members, or own our senators if they did they very same thing for us in Texas, or in the Panhandle?
My guess is that we’d change our tune in a heartbeat.