Remembering political legends Bill Scranton and Harry Byrd Jr.

Updated

One of the oldest living former governors and the oldest living former U.S. senator both died this week. Former Gov. Bill Scranton, a Pennsylvania Republican, and former Sen. Harry Byrd Jr., a Democrat of Virginia, passed away within a few days of each other.
Both men hailed from prominent families. Scranton’s ancestors came to America on the Mayflower, noted Rick Perlstein in his history of the rise of conservative Republicans and the 1964 presidential campaign, Before The Storm. And Byrd’s father controlled Virginia politics with an iron fist. “The Byrd Machine is the most urbane and genteel dictatorship in America,” Robert Caro quoted one writer in The Passage of Power, his latest volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson.
Elected governor in 1962, Scranton was a progressive Republican whose first year in office was such a success, he was boomed for the 1964 presidential nomination. A deeply humble man for a politician, Scranton had no real desire for higher office and resisted entreaties for him to enter the race. That was, until Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater voted to continue a filibuster of the 1964 civil rights bill. Scranton had not wanted to run for the presidency, but as he told his advisers the day after Goldwater’s vote, “We must do it because it is right.”
As Scranton’s political future was in decline, Harry Flood Byrd Jr.’s was on the rise. He inherited his father’s U.S. Senate seat by the appointment of Virginia’s governor, a member of the Byrd Machine. But Byrd and his conservative Southern ilk were ill at ease with the Democratic Party in the tumultuous 1960s, as Up host Steve Kornacki noted on Saturday.
The Democratic Party has changed since Byrd’s time. Harry Byrd Sr., was a staunch supporter of segregation and signer of the infamous “Southern Manifesto,” which promised massive resistance to civil rights. Earlier this year, a Virginia Democratic senator, Tim Kaine, gave the Senate’s first speech in Spanish. Kaine holds the Byrds’ former seat.

Remembering political legends Bill Scranton and Harry Byrd Jr.

Updated