The Best Profile of Robert Byrd

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In his later years, Sen. Robert Byrd, who died this morning, was often viewed--not without some justification--as a self-important windbag who embodied all that was wrong with the fusty and sclerotic institution that he served and worshiped. His 2005 memoir was, to be blunt, absolutely terrible and thoroughly unilluminating--quite a feat given the book's length of 832 pages. I mentioned in an earlier post that Byrd was the subject of an Atlantic Monthly cover story in 1975 titled "The Man Who Runs The Senate." The piece, by Sanford J. Ungar, captures Byrd at the peak of his career. He was gearing up to run to for president in 1976. He did not become president, of course, and went on (and on and on) to have an influential career in the Senate. But he was never again thought of as "presidential material." The Atlantic piece captures the Robert Byrd currently being memorialized as a powerful force, historic figure, etc. You can read it here.

As an aside, I had reason to interview Byrd a few years ago for this Hillary Clinton profile (Byrd was instrumental in Clinton's rise to power--or perhaps better to say, she used him masterfully as an instrument to gain power.) Having read his memoir, knowing how seriously he took himself and any accolade directed his way, I dug up an original copy of the Atlantic issue and presented it to him when we met. It did the trick: he opened right up.

Special thanks to the Atlantic's industrious Web staff for dusting off the cob webs and getting the piece into virtual format.

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Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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