My Favorite Robert Byrd Moment

James reminds me of a rather humorous incident. Ten days ago, as my wife and I channel-surfed, we stumbled upon Robert Byrd on C-SPAN. I made a point of stopping and watching because I wanted to explain just how distinctive he was on the floor. He did not disappoint. During the filibuster debate, he passionately warned Bill Frist and other Republican leaders against “hemenizing” the Senate.

We had no idea what he was saying. Heck, we had no clue how one would even spell such a word. All we knew was that there was an “h” at the beginning and some sort of “z” sound toward the end. I looked it up in the dictionary but had no luck. I knew it wasn’t “humanize,” “Heavenize,” and “Hellenize,” so I just gave up, though it became a running joke in our household.

Well, I finally found the transcript. As I should have probably guessed, Byrd coined that term in the midst of the heated verbal showdown. I thought for a while that my blue-state ears lost their ability to understand the Southern accent, but in fact, my feeble mind just failed to recognize genius.

Senate, 12 May 2005, S5036 (Emphasis added.)

[…] Esther was a Jew. She had a cousin who sat at the king’s gate every day. He was a Jew. His name was Mordecai. The word went out that a man who had been favored by the king, a man named Haman–H-A-M-A-N, I believe it is. Here is my Bible. This is the King James version of the Bible. I don’t read any other version of the Bible except the King James version. I speak as a born-again Christian. We hear that thrown around a lot around here. I am a born-again Christian and have been since 1946.

My wife and I will soon be married, the Lord willing, in about 16 or 17 more days, 68 years. We were both put under the water in that old churchyard pool under the apple orchard in West Virginia, the old Missionary Baptist Church there. Both Erma and I went under the water. So I speak as a born-again Christian. You hear that term thrown around. I have never made a big whoop-de-do about being a born-again Christian, but I speak as a born-again Christian. Hear me all you evangelicals out there, hear me.

So here we were, we were baptized. But getting back to Esther, her cousin, Mordecai, sat at the king’s gate day after day, and he refused to do homage to the king. The king was Ahasuerus, and his wife’s name was Vashti. The king asked Vashti to come in before all the big shots in the kingdom, and she refused to come. So his advisers advised him to put her away and get a new queen. So they brought in all the beautiful virgins–perhaps not all of them, but they brought enough to dazzle the king’s eyes–and they chose Hadassah, that is Esther, after whom the book is titled.

She was the king’s new queen and she got word from Mordecai that word was going out from the king’s top man named Haman that all the Jews were to be killed on a certain day. So Mordecai told her that, and she told the king and the king said: Who did this? Who said that?

So the finger was put upon Haman. Haman was the chief leader there of King Ahasuerus. Well, time went on and old Haman was advised by his people to build a gallows and hang on those gallows Mordecai, and on that same day to kill all the Jews throughout the 127 provinces of Persia.

I will go to the point of the story quickly. It ended with Haman, the man who built the gallows on which to hang Mordecai, himself being hanged on those gallows. It did not stop there. The ten sons of Haman were executed on those gallows, also.

I say this to the distinguished Senator, hear me, hear me. I am willing to give some up-and-down votes on some judges. That is a little thing. But it is a big thing if it is carried too far. Judges do not have to go before the people to be voted on like the Senator from Tennessee, the Senator from Nevada, and I have to do. They are appointed for life, and this is the only place where they can be scrutinized.

Well, in the case of Haman, he was executed on his own gallows. I say to the leader of the Republican Party in this Senate, the worm turns and there will come a day when the majority leader of the Senate will be on this side of the aisle. I have seen it happen back and forth time and again. It can happen again. That worm will turn.

I say to the leader, please do not “Hamanize,” if I may coin a word, the Senate. Remember Haman. The leader and his party may someday be on the same gallows that we in the minority find ourselves on today, “Hamanized.” Do not travel that path because the leader and his party may someday be executed on the same gallows. Think about it. Do not “Hamanize” the Senate of the United States.

I thank the distinguished leaders for listening. I hope my words will not have been in vain. I plead with them, please do not “Hamanize” the Senate of the United States. Take us out of that straitjacket.[…]

Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. McGehee says:

    An excellent choice of “last word” from Byrd in your excerpt there. Ol’ Sheets sure does sound like he needs a straitjacket.