When a ninety-two-year-old is “seriously ill,” it’s more likely than not that the end is near. So it’s possible that Robert Byrd’s astounding political career is about to draw to a close.
Byrd has not been one of the politicians I admire, though his stubborn insistence on the prerogatives of the Senate reflects one of the factors that kept the Constitution working until the Hill Republicans decided in 2001 to elevate party loyalty over institutional loyalty. And, given how tight things are in the Senate, it would be unnatural for conservatives not to be counting votes right now. (According to Nate Silver, under W.Va. law if a Senator dies the Governor – a Democrat – appoints an interim Senator. There would be a new election in November if the vacancy occurs before July 3. If it occurs later, then the interim would fill the rest of the term.) I don’t see any point in pretending that Sen. Byrd’s well-being is the only thing that should interest political junkies.
But the convention of not publicly saying unnecessarily vicious things about the terminally ill or recently deceased is one worth upholding. If the person in question isn’t one your admire but you have need to comment formally, you find something nice to say; if not, a decent silence is appropriate. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, and all that. Even Michelle Malkin knows that much.
Alas, the sort of conservatives who comment on political websites are not, as Jeffrey Goldberg might say, toilet-trained. The comments on The Hill or Pajamas Media are about 80% nasty. Big Government is the worst, by a nose. Not a little bit nasty: “too bad he didn’t die earlier” nasty and “he’s going to Hell” nasty and “the rest of the Democrats should die, too” nasty. About a third mention Byrd’s membership in the Klan, more than sixty years ago, leading to the usual “all-Democrats-are-racist” rant. Overall, a pretty disgusting display.
Yes, there are sites – Democrats.com for example – where liberals display this sort of behavior. But they’re marginal, and deliberately marginalized. I doubt this reflects a systematic personality difference across the political spectrum. Institutionally, though, the entire right side of the aisle has been seized by lunatics, and they’re setting the tone.
Really, it’s not good for the country.