Ten Best: Kennedy/Byrd moments

by Brian Clarey

June 2, 2008 Lastweek the two most senior members of the US Senate, Sens. Robert Byrd(D-WV) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), faced individual health crises.Kennedy, who eventually won the Senate seat vacated by his brother Johnin 1962, underwent surgery for a malignant brain tumor at DukeUniversity Medical Center in Durham. Byrd, who was elected to the USHouse of Representatives in 1952 and took a Senate seat in 1958, washospitalized in the Washington DC area after experiencing lethargy anda high fever. Between them they have served their country for more than100 years, though it hasnlt always been pretty. Chappaquiddick (Kennedy) Let’sget this one right out of the way, shall we? In 1969, a young TeddyKennedy took an even younger staffer from his brother Bobby’s 1968presidential campaign for a drive to the Vineyard – Martha’s, of course- and on the way he drove off the Dike Bridge and into the water.Kennedy swam to safety while the woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, died in thecar, which was upside-down and under water. Kennedy called the cops thenext day, after the car and body were found. He pled guilty to leavingthe scene and was sentenced to two months in jail, suspended. Race relations (Byrd) Sen.Byrd joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1942, when he was 24 years old,eventually ascending to the title of Exalted Cyclops. By the time heran for Congress in 1952 he had disassociated himself from theorganization and has apologized for it numerous times since. But…Byrd was part of the infamous 1964 filibuster staged by SouthernDemocrats to stall that year’s Civil Rights Act. And he is the onlysenator to have voted against the nominations of both Thurgood Marshalland Clarence Thomas – the only men of color ever to be nominated forthe US Supreme Court. But… Byrd carries a 100-percent rating from theNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People because healigned with them on all 33 bills they endorsed in the 108th Congress.And he has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race. Harvard days (Kennedy) Withan accent like that, there was really no other college for Kennedy thanHarvard, where he entered in 1950 as a freshman. But young Teddy wasnot exactly college material – he was expelled in 1951 for paying afriend to take a Spanish exam in his stead. So he pulled a couple yearsin the Army – another long story – and was readmitted in 1954. Heredeemed himself somewhat in November 1955, when he caught the soletouchdown pass in the Yale Bowl that year, though the Crimson stilllost 21-7. Angel… of death? (Byrd) In 1951, Byrdwitnessed the executions of Fred Painter and Harry Burdette, convictedof kicking a soft-drink salesman to death in Charleston, WV. It was thefirst time West Virginia would use the electric chair to carry out itsdeath sentences, and the last execution Byrd would ever watch. "It’snot a beautiful thing," he said. He did invoke the punishment asappropriate for former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in July2007 over that whole dog-fighting thing. Man loves dogs. Kennedy as cockroach (Kennedy) In1964, Kennedy survived a plane crash that killed the pilot and hisaide. It was just a year after his brother John was assassinated inDallas, four years before his brother Robert was murdered and 35 yearsbefore his nephew, John Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash near theMassachusetts coast. His eldest brother, Joe, also died in a planecrash. More on that in a minute. He suffered a broken back and apunctured lung, but still managed to hold his office. The King of Pork (Byrd) RobertByrd is known as the "King of Pork" for the enormous amounts of cash hehas diverted to his mountainous state since taking office in the 1950s.Some examples: the Robert C. Byrd Expressway; the Robert C. ByrdFreeway, Robert C. Byrd Drive, the Robert C. Byrd Bridge, the Robert C.Byrd Federal Correctional Institution, the Robert C. Byrd Institute forAdvanced Flexible Manufacturing, the Robert C. Byrd federal buildings(both of them), Robert C. Byrd Industrial Park, the Robert C. ByrdInstitute of the Robert C. Byrd Federal Building and the Robert C. Byrdstatue in the US Capitol Building. You’ve got to love this guy. Blue-collar blueblood (Kennedy) Youcan say what you want about Teddy Kennedy – though it’s pretty much allbeen said before – but the guy hasn’t exactly been sitting on his asssince he took office. He’s been the Senate majority whip; chairman ofthe Senate Judiciary Committee; chairman of the Senate Labor and HumanResources Committee; is currently chairman of the Senate Health,Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; and still serves on theJudiciary Committee and the Armed Services Committee. Shoulda been in pictures (Byrd) Byrdwas involved in the creation of C-Span, that cable network that managesto be completely vital and totally unwatchable at the same time. He hada cameo in the feature film Gods and Generals, and once played thefiddle on "Hee Haw." Man of constant sorrow (Kennedy) Kennedyhas suffered enormous personal hardships: His sister Rose had a fontallobotomy. His oldest brother, Joe, was killed in a plane crash and…well you know what happened to John, Robert and John Jr. His son Edwardlost his leg to bone cancer. He’s been divorced, though has sinceremarried, and has battled alcoholism.