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Remembering Robert Byrd, Longest Serving Senator

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Remembering Robert Byrd, Longest Serving Senator


Remembering Robert Byrd, Longest Serving Senator

Remembering Robert Byrd, Longest Serving Senator

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Jon Ralston, columnist, Las Vegas Sun
Robert Rupp, professor, West Virginia Wesleyan College

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va) died Monday at the age of 92. He spent 51 years in the Senate, and is remembered for bringing money back to his home state of West Virginia. "They can call it pork if they want to, and that's alright," he once said, but he saw it as his duty to his people.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The president's picks prosper on Capitol Hill, Sharron Angle emerges to talk church and state in Nevada, Brown and Boxer take an early lead in California, it's Wednesday and time for a confirmation edition of the political junkie.

Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us every Wednesday, this time in the middle of a week with no primaries, but a Supreme Court nominee and a new Afghan commander testified before the Senate. More testimony in Illinois, where the Democratic Senate nominee gets called by the defense in the Blago trial, while his Republican opponent tones down his military awards.

Bill Clinton endorses the Colorado Senate Democrat the other Democrats hope loses. Later, the transformation of the late Robert Byrd. Plus, we want to know who you root for when your World Cup team crashes.

But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A, as he does every week. Hey Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: As usual, we begin with a trivia question.

RUDIN: Okay, well, speaking of Bill Clinton in Colorado, he endorsed Andrew Romanoff, who's running for the Senate against the appointed incumbent, Michael Bennett. The White House strongly supports Bennett, but Bill Clinton is backing Romanoff.

So my trivia question is, who was the last appointed senator to be defeated in the primary?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question Who was the last appointed senator to be defeated in the primary? give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, I'll give you a hint. It was either a Democrat or a Republican.

RUDIN: Oh thanks, thank, Neal.

CONAN: There is a huge number of appointed senators right at the moment.

RUDIN: There have been.

CONAN: Let's start in Nevada this week, Ken. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid has a target on his back, so to speak, from Republican Sharron Angle. He finally sat down for an interview she finally sat down for an interview today, or last night.

RUDIN: Thats correct. She sat down with Jon Ralston, who has been on this program before. He hosts this television show. Jon Ralston is Mr. Politics in Nevada, and he knows everything, and basically, people, candidates know that if you're going on his show, you're going to get grilled, and she really got grilled last night.

Ina Jaffe had a very good piece on Sharron Angle the day before, but again, Sharron Angle refused to speak to Ina Jaffe and most media folks.

CONAN: She'd been going strictly on Fox News and on...

RUDIN: Conservative talk radio.

CONAN: Conservative talk radio, using a sort of new approach to try to avoid the mainstream media. She could not avoid them forever. Jon Ralston, as we mentioned, was the one who finally landed the interview with Sharron Angle, and he joins us now from on the phone from Nevada. He's the host of the program "Face to Face" and a columnist at the Las Vegas Sun. Jon, nice to have you with us.

Mr. JON RALSTON (Columnist, Las Vegas Sun): Hi there.

CONAN: And congratulations.

Mr. RALSTON: Well, thanks for that, too.

CONAN: And how did you finally get her to agree?

Mr. RALSTON: Persistence and maybe a little bit of charm, although some may not buy that last explanation. We just, you know, we just kept pushing her, and we put the admonitions on the program that she should come on, and eventually, we broke through. It was not easy, I'll tell you that.

CONAN: And one of the questions that a lot of people had for her, during one of those appearances on conservative talk radio, she said, boy, if this Congress continues down this road, it'll be time for people to resort to Second Amendment remedies. Did she explain what she meant by Second Amendment remedies last night?

Mr. RALSTON: Well, first let me say that the end of that was her saying, and we need to take out Harry Reid. This is at the end of a rant about essentially people taking up arms and revolting.

She backed off of it, a little bit, at least, and then tried to switch gears and say she was just standing up for Second Amendment rights and tried to use the Supreme Court decision this week as validating what she had said.

But it's clear that she knew that that rhetoric was a little bit over the top and all but said so last night.

CONAN: And in terms of taking out Harry Reid, she meant she said she meant politically.

Mr. RALSTON: Yes, exactly, and she said that she realized after she had first said that during the campaign, that it was a little bit too far and that she changed her rhetoric to say just defeat Harry Reid.

But if you read all of that in context, there are a lot of people who would think that she was talking about a call to arms and not exactly what the founding fathers would have thought of as a tyrannical government, no matter how much you don't like what's going on in Washington right now.

CONAN: Did she stick to her position that several U.S. Cabinet departments ought to be eliminated?

Mr. RALSTON: That actually did not come up, but she has never wavered from that. And I actually think that some of those positions that have been painted as extreme are probably not thought of as extreme by as many people in the electorate as Harry Reid might want to think.

CONAN: There was an interesting moment where she told you and we're going to play a cut of tape here she told you that the separation of church and state is not rooted in the Constitution.

Ms. SHARRON ANGLE (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Nevada): Thomas Jefferson has been misquoted, like I've been misquoted, out of context. Thomas Jefferson was actually addressing a church and telling them, through his address, that there had been a wall of separation put up between the church and the state, precisely to protect the church.

Mr. RALSTON: So there should be no separation. So there should be no separation of church and state.

Ms. ANGLE: protect the church from being taken over by a state religion, and that's what they meant.

CONAN: Well, that's what she thinks they meant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RALSTON: Yes, indeed. We first discovered, in doing some of our (technical difficulties) program, that Angle has testified as a school board member before the legislature, and had flat-out told the legislature during testimony on a school choice (technical difficulties) separation of church and state is unconstitutional. So that's why I wanted to approach this with her.

She and her people now, by the way, are pushing back on that, saying that nowhere do the words separation of church and state appear in the Constitution. So she was right. But of course, that's not the point.

And it's not what Thomas Jefferson thought, and it's not what's been validated in many, many U.S. Supreme Court decisions, as you know, over the years.

CONAN: There was also an issue about Social Security, and she had been well, the thought had been that she was opposed to Social Security, thinking that was unconstitutional. Indeed, she clarified that on your program, as well. John?

Mr. RALSTON: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were going to play the tape then.

CONAN: No, it's all right. No, that's okay.

Mr. RALSTON: I guess what she did is, not so much clarify, as change her position entirely. See, first she had said we need to phase out Social Security. We need to essentially go to a full privatization, not the partial privatization that George W. Bush had proposed, but get the government out of it completely.

Then, right after the primary, she started using the term personalize instead of privatize, thinking that might soften it up a little bit. But then last night, she essentially said the government should still be involved for current retirees, that it's clear that what she's supporting is just a partial privatization, and she still has not quite answered the question of how, back in 2005, when Bush proposed something like this that's much less dramatic than what she did, the Congressional Budget Office said there would be huge benefits cuts needed.

But she's clearly now she answered flat-out, yes, when we finally got to the end of the discussion, when I asked her: so you think there should be some government involvement? She said yes, which is completely contradicts her previous position.


RUDIN: Jon, the polls obviously still show that Harry Reid is in a tough battle for re-election, and I know the economy is bad in Nevada, and there's foreclosures and all that stuff. But what how do you explain why Harry Reid's numbers are so poor?

Mr. RALSTON: Well, he is extraordinarily unpopular for several reasons, I think, Ken. First is just the fact that he's been around Nevada politics for 40 years, and I think there is something I like to call Reid fatigue going on.

And as you well know, a lot of politicians can recover from the familiarity-breeding-contempt problem by being charismatic and being able to stir the faithful.

You can say a lot of things about Harry Reid - he's not charismatic. So he can't fix that. Add that into the fact that he is now one of the three-headed monsters to the opposition of Obama-Reid-Pelosi and an agenda that is still very unpopular in the country and here in Nevada, and he has got some serious problems.

One other point, though, in the 20-plus years I've covered politics here, I have never heard people speak and certainly email with the kind of vitriol and outright hatred that people feel for Harry Reid. The provenance of that is something I just cannot fathom.

CONAN: Jon Ralston, thanks very much for your time today. Congratulations again on the interview. I'm sure we'll check in before November.

Mr. RALSTON: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Jon Ralston interviewed Sharron Angle on his "Face to Face" program Tuesday night. He's also a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun and joined us on the phone from there in Nevada.

We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, again, the last appointed senator to lose in a party primary, 800-989-8255. Email And we'll start with Melissa(ph), Melissa with us in St. Louis.

MELISSA (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Hi, Melissa.

MELISSA: Well, I'm going with Jean Carnahan.

CONAN: Jean Carnahan from Missouri.

RUDIN: Well, Jean Carnahan was appointed to the Senate after her husband had been posthumously elected, and then but she didn't lose in the primary. She lost to Jim Talent in the general election. She didn't lose the primary.

MELISSA: Oh, well, I tried.

CONAN: All right, nice try, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to this is Ken(ph), Ken with us from Buxton in North Dakota.

KEN (Caller): Good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

KEN: I'm going with Walter Mondale of Minnesota.

RUDIN: Well, Walter Mondale actually was appointed to the Senate you have a good memory when Hubert Humphrey was elected vice president. But Walter Mondale was never defeated for the Senate. As a matter of fact, he served until he was appointed by became vice president on the Jimmy Carter ticket in '76.

CONAN: Then he was then got on the nominated again to replace...

RUDIN: And then lost to Norm Coleman. But again, it was not in a primary. It was in a general election.

KEN: Very good.

RUDIN: We're looking for an incumbent, appointed senator who was defeated in the primary.

CONAN: And here's an email answer from Lynn(ph) in Raleigh, North Carolina: I think the answer is Sheila Frahm in 1996.

RUDIN: And that is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Sheila Frahm was appointed after Bob Dole quite the Senate, when he wanted to focus full-time on his presidential bid, and she lost the primary to Sam Brownback, who is now leaving the Senate to run for governor.

CONAN: Okay, so we have your email. We will get you, get your particulars and send you a fabulous no-prize T-shirt, beautifully designed by Casey Conan(ph), and then we'll extract a promise from you to have a digital picture of you in the T-shirt to post on our wall of shame.

Well, just a little time in this segment. We'll get back to more potpourri a little bit later in the program, Ken, but the president's two nominees before the Senate this week, first General David Petraeus, nominated to replace the man who had to resign as the previous commander, and confirmed today by the United States Senate 99 to nothing.

RUDIN: Right. It was a close race and a close vote. And actually, a lot of Democrats wanted assurances that General Petraeus was on the same page as President Obama, saying that they should begin a timetable, 2011, to pulling out troops in Afghanistan.

And Petraeus, who is far more politically savvy that McChrystal was, of course, he said, look, my policy is the same as the president's. I am here to implement the president's policy.

CONAN: And nobody thinks the vote, the final vote for Elena Kagan to be the next Supreme Court justice, will be 99 to nothing. However, many Republican senators saying today they expect she will be confirmed.

RUDIN: And she will, and there will be no filibuster.

CONAN: We're talking with political junkie Ken Rudin. Up next, the remarkable life of Robert Byrd, the longest-serving senator in U.S. history. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

It's Wednesday, Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us, as always. You can also read his blog and solve his ScuttleButton puzzle and download his podcast at

The Senate lost a giant this week, Senator Robert Byrd, the Democrat from West Virginia. He cast more than 18,000 votes in his time and often said he loved the institution he served, as well as the senators in it.

Every year on Constitution Day, for as long as people can remember, he took to the Senate floor to both read from and extol the virtues of the United States Constitution.

Senator ROBERT BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia): My name is Robert C. Byrd. I am a United States senator, and I am an American. This is my Constitution. This is our Constitution. And this is how it begins: We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice...

CONAN: Senator Robert Byrd, speaking as he did every Constitution Day, on the floor of the United States Senate. Tomorrow, Senator Byrd's body will lie in repose in the United States Senate Chamber, a very rare honor. And it will then be transferred later for burial in Arlington, Virginia, next Tuesday.

Joining us now in Studio 3A is Professor Robert Rupp, to remember the longest-serving senator in U.S. history. He's an historian at West Virginia Wesleyan College, and nice to have you with us today on the program.

Mr. ROBERT RUPP (Professor, West Virginia Wesleyan College): Thank you for inviting me.

CONAN: And as we were listening to that cut of tape, you were reaching into your shirt pocket and gesticulating as Senator Byrd used to do...

Mr. RUPP: He always carried around, and then he would lift it up and wave it. And Neal, I think one of the legacies that maybe our listeners don't know is that every school, college has to celebrate, has to have some commemoration every September 17th because he wrote that in law.

CONAN: So that is one of his legacies.

Mr. RUPP: That's one of his legacies. And at - many schools said, we don't want you're forcing us to do something we don't want to do. And they had a great debate, and to Byrd's credit, he said: Isn't that marvelous, that's what the Constitution is about.

CONAN: You worked for Senator Byrd when you were a young man.

Mr. RUPP: No. I'm just a political historian who's been following him and met him. As you know, West Virginia politics is well, as they say, everything is political except politics, which is personal.

CONAN: Which is personal in West Virginia. He was he's a revered figure today. He did not come up in politics that way.

Mr. RUPP: No. I think what you're looking to is an arc. I think, Neal, we first have to start with imagine someone getting elected this November and serving in the U.S. Senate until 2061. So we're talking about a man who has amazing longevity and had to work.

The key thing was people underestimated. In fact, Neal, according in his office, there's a plaque that said: Graveyards are full of people who have underestimated Robert C. Byrd.

CONAN: If you want to join us in your reminiscence of Senator Robert Byrd, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Or send us an email, You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Ken?

RUDIN: Professor Rupp, I think West Virginia Wesleyan College is one of the few places that have not changed its name to Robert C. Byrd College because everything seems to be named after him. But on many websites around the country, a lot of people have focused on his beginnings in politics, and of course, he started in the Ku Klux Klan. He voted filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, voted against Thurgood Marshall. What was his explain the transformation of Robert C. Byrd in those days to the later Robert Byrd.

Mr. RUPP: Okay, he joined the Klan in the '40s, when it was very prevalent in a Southern state. And then he said - renounced it, called it a mistake. But in 1952, it became a key issue because they found out he, you know, he kind of misled the public of his involvement. So and it became a key issue in 1952. Several papers said he should drop out because...

RUDIN: When he first ran for the House.

Mr. RUPP: Yes. So that but once he got in and you're right, he filibustered 14 hours against it. The transformation occurs in 1968, and he said it was a personal epiphany, but to be honest with you, it was really a political one.

Robert C. Byrd didn't want to be senator. He wanted to be a powerful senator. And the only way he could get into the Democratic leadership was to turn on civil rights. And as a result, from '68 on, Ken, he was a firm supporter of civil rights legislation and for the rest of his life said: This issue will haunt me, and it was a mistake. And we see in the obits, that's a key issue, that's one of the issues they mention.

CONAN: As let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us, Before we go to the phones, though, I think the only serving United States senator ever to put himself through law school while serving in the Senate.

Mr. RUPP: You see, the very fact he didn't have a college education and I think, Neal, hard work characterized. When he was working a grocery, he learned to be a butcher, hence the butcher from Beckley. But that was because he wanted to get ahead.

When he comes to the Senate, right, without a college education, he learns the rules and procedure. What's the one thing senators don't want to study? He becomes the expert. He becomes indispensible. And I think it's that hard-work ethic that goes through how this boy from a coal camp can become this powerful senator.


RUDIN: Is it fair to say, though, that he was not beloved? I mean, he was respected. He was seen as a constitutional expert. But he was not the most liked, likable guy in the Senate.

Mr. RUPP: No, he didn't play by the club rules, and he was kind of almost as a curmudgeon. He didn't go to the parties. He didn't he found his role, assigned his role. And I think one of the best stories told of him is when he thought the Senate was getting a little unruly, he would give them that teacher look, and they would kind of get respect. And that's the Robert C. Byrd.

CONAN: Let's go next to Jim(ph), and Jim's on the line from Philadelphia.

JIM (Caller): Hi, good afternoon, Neal, good afternoon, professor. One of the things that Senator Byrd is well-known for is bringing home funding to West Virginia.

And I went to college in West Virginia, at Wheeling College, and in the years since then, we've gotten graced with two buildings thanks to Senator Byrd's largesse. One is a national transfer center, national technology transfer center, and the other, named for his wife, is one of the Challenger centers for aerospace exploration.

CONAN: There is also, I was reading in the newspaper, I think there's a Senator Byrd Expressway, there's a Senator Byrd Highway, there's a Senator Byrd Overpass. This is what the senator had to say about his many attempts to bring money back to West Virginia.

Sen. BYRD: And I'm going to do everything I can for the people of West Virginia. That's my duty. You can call it pork if they want to, but that's all right. I know what my duty is. My duty is to my people.

CONAN: And his people rewarded him for it, did they not, Robert Rupp?

Mr. RUPP: Well, they did. There are many projects, you said even named after his wife. But, you know, the irony, Neal, is that Robert C. Byrd isn't his name. His birth name was Calvin Sale, Jr. And he wasn't even born in West Virginia, but certainly, he became its most famous adopted son. They call it pork. People in West Virginia said needed infrastructure improvement.

CONAN: A state that in years past had been ignored, perhaps, by the federal government, in dire need of a lot of infrastructure.

Mr. RUPP: Yes, we are a mountain state. We don't even have a natural lake. And now we have more than 2,000 miles of divided highway.

CONAN: All right. Jim, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.

JIM: You're quite welcome, and it was good to hear about West Virginia on the air.

CONAN: Okay. He Senator Byrd was at various times majority leader of the United States Senate, minority leader of the United States Senate, long-time chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which gave him the power to send all those millions, billions probably in the long run, to West Virginia. Was he known as a legislator? Did he write any laws?

Mr. RUPP: No, he was the implementer, the procedure, the one that got things done. There isn't any really major legislation. But he made himself indispensible in terms of making it operating and also in terms of trying to set a tone of civility, both of which seem lacking today.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Lois(ph), Lois with us from Athens, Ohio.

LOIS (Caller): My question is, I see a disconnect between the forgiveness that Senator Byrd seems to have received during the course of his political career and Strom Thurmond, who I think the final difference was when the gentleman from I believe Louisiana I can't think of his name right now had to resign from his position because of a joke he made at a private banquet. I would like your guest to address this question.

Mr. RUPP: Right. I think we have Byrd before '67, which was following what most of the Southern senators did in upholding segregation and makes a dramatic change. When our college was going to give an honorary degree to the senator, our student government said, let's explore this.

And basically, I called up the president of the NAACP in West Virginia, and he said, son, I don't care what he did in the first 20 years. I care what he did in the last 30 years.

CONAN: And I think, Lois, you're referring to Trent Lott of Mississippi, who...

LOIS: Right, right, I am. Well, I still you still haven't answered my question. I find it curious that Strom Thurmond did not receive the same kind of consideration that Senator Byrd did.

Mr. RUPP: Well, did Strom Thurmond go out of his way to apologize and say that was his biggest mistake, which Byrd has basically had been doing since 1952. And I thought it was interesting that when he ran for reelection at the age of 88, one of his first supporters in a fundraiser was Senator Barack Obama, calculated maybe on both parts.

CONAN: One apologized, and I'm not sure that one ever did quite the same way.

RUDIN: Well, and just - in fair - well, Strom Thurmond did go out of his way to appoint African-American interns in his office and Senate pages. But as George Wallace said now, of course, remember when George Wallace thought, he also apologized for the sins of his past. But I think it's fair to say that Byrd has gotten more acceptance for his apologies than the Wallaces, the Thurmonds. Well, of course - and Jesse Helms, of course, never apologized.

Prof. RUPP: Yeah. That's right. And it came earlier.

RUDIN: That's probably...

Prof. RUPP: He's recognized that as a liability. And I think, needly, given his ambition, he tried to correct it.

CONAN: Thank you, Lois. Let's go next to Jerry(ph), Jerry with us from O'Fallon in Missouri.

JERRY (Caller): Well, I wonder if I'm the only person who had occasion to listen to a replay of Senator Byrd speaking on the floor in 2002 about the, at that time, impeding invasion of Iraq and how it would ultimately turn out. And it turns out that he was, of course, quite right, but I remember at that time he was widely denigrated. And even his patriotism was questioned, brought into question simply because he felt that we should have more proof or more reason.

CONAN: Indeed, that was another of his transformations from a hawkish voice on the war in Vietnam to, as you mentioned, back in 2002, well, just about the only voice rising in opposition to the measure to authorize the invasion of Iraq.

(Soundbite of archived speech)

Senator ROBERT BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia): Instead of passing this joint resolution, why don't we say up front, let's give this man downtown a blank check. Leave it all up to him. Give it to him lock, stock, and barrel and we'll go home. We'll put a sign on the Capitol: Out of business until we're called back by the president under the Constitution. We'll go home. We'll go fishing, play golf, study, read, write our memoirs - out of business.

CONAN: Robert Byrd on the Senate floor.

RUDIN: Professor Rupp, I mean, clearly, he believed in the Senate decision, it's up to the Senate to decide whether Americans are sent overseas to go to war.

Prof. RUPP: Yes. And he said, greatest regret was voting for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. And there's a pattern in his entire life defending the Senate against executive power.

RUDIN: No matter - whether it's a fellow...

Prof. RUPP: No matter - and it doesn't matter - if it's war or something the public supports like line item. He was a protector of the Senate and that - we talk about transformations. Suddenly, he is alone and he looks around, he says, shame, shame, shame on that.

And I was at the Boston convention with the delegation and he was speaking at the church across from Harvard. And our bus was late and there weren't any seats, and the crowd kind of parted like the Red Sea and we went right up the front row. And they said, oh, you're from West Virginia. Now, 10 years before, would they have said that, 10 years before? I mean, this is an amazing transformation, not only of him, but I think of the American nation.

CONAN: We're talking about the life of Robert C. Byrd, the senator from West Virginia. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And our guest is, again, Robert Rupp, a professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. And let's go next to - this is Jed(ph), Jed with us from Cumberland in Rhode Island.

JED (Caller): Hi. I live in Cumberland but I actually grew up in Beckley. And I wanted to tell a story about my experience as a conscientious objector during Vietnam. I was going through a couple of appeals with the draft board in Beckley. And I asked to meet with my congressman and both senators. Nobody gave me the time of the day except for Senator Byrd, even though he was a supporter of Vietnam. He probably didn't agree with my conscience objection. But I spent an hour with one of his staffers and he - they at least listened to my case.

CONAN: And...

JED: And I appreciated that.

CONAN: And did he endorse your motion?

JED: I never heard directly from him. His staffer devoted, though, a full hour of gathering information. Eventually, I was recognized as a conscientious objector, served my civilian service for two years.

CONAN: So, in any case, it didn't hurt.

JED: Correct.

CONAN: All right, Jed. Thanks very much for that. Appreciate it.

JED: You're welcome.

Prof. RUPP: And it also shows his constituency. This is a man who remained very close to his state.

CONAN: Let's go next to Matt(ph), Matt with us from Denver.

MATT (Caller): Hi. Can you hear me?

CONAN: Yes. You're on the air, Matt. Go ahead, please.

MATT: Thank you. I was just thinking back to the lighter side of Senator Byrd. I think it was in '69 or '70. I remember seeing him on the variety show "Hee Haw," playing his fiddle.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Yes. He was noted for fiddling at, well, campaign events and almost anywhere else he - anybody would put up with it.

Prof. RUPP: He would go down to the center of town. He said, I'm going to fiddle, and then give a speech, and he would draw the crowd. But, I mean, that's the Senator Byrd we see in the pictures, with the pompadour and the polyester and the fiddle. But this man was shrewd, ambitious and in the end, very successful.

RUDIN: When you think of him, that same year, 1969, he - it was 1971, he defeated Ted Kennedy to be majority whip. So, I mean, he knew his politics and he knew when to make his move.

Prof. RUPP: And remember, everyone was totally surprised, but anyone who knew how the Senate operated was not. This is a man who worked inside. He was an insider.

CONAN: And he also needs to be remembered for one other - and Matt, by the way, thanks very much for the phone call - one other contribution back in the '70s during the Senate debate on the Panama Canal Treaty. It was Robert Byrd of West Virginia who authorized the first live broadcast from the floor of the United States Senate as the Senate debated that treaty.

Of course, we've gone on to now accept the idea that C-SPAN would broadcast every minute, though their cameras are only focused in certain places. But, nevertheless, this was the first time that electronic media was given access to the Senate floor.

Prof. RUPP: And he did that because he saw the House. He didn't want the Senate ever to fall behind his institution. And you're right, he did allow the cameras in.

RUDIN: Plus the fact that we know that, you know, he's going to be lying in repose. A lot of people lie in the Senate, but not everybody has to be dead to lie in the Senate. And we learned that from TV coverage.

Prof. RUPP: And I think the other thing is people would come and listen to his speeches.

CONAN: Robert Rupp, thank you very much for your time today. Robert Rupp, a professor of West Virginia Wesleyan College and he joined us here in Studio 3A.

We're going to leave you with a musical tribute to Senator Byrd by the band I See Hawks in L.A.

And then we also need to thank Political Junkie Ken Rudin, who joins us every Wednesday.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Coming up next, the bad calls, the big upsets and blown comebacks, the World Cup. Who do you root for once your team goes home?

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Byrd from West Virginia")

Mr. ROB WALLER (Lead Vocalist, I See Hawks in L.A.): John Fitzgerald Kennedy, just before the young president was escorted into history. Byrd from West Virginia, Byrd from West Virginia, Byrd from West Virginia, Senator Byrd.

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