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The End of an Era

Aug 12, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 45 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Scrapbook notes with regret the death of two names from the recent political past: William Scranton, 96, the former Pennsylvania governor, U.N. ambassador, and Republican presidential candidate; and Harry Byrd Jr., 98, longtime U.S. senator from Virginia and, as it happens, avid reader of The Weekly Standard. 


Both were scions of fabled families in their respective states, and both earned, in their time, a mention in political history. Scranton, with his eleventh-hour challenge to Barry Goldwater in 1964, personified the once-dominant “Northeast” wing of the Republican party as it was being challenged by insurgent conservatism. And when Byrd, the son of a legendary Dixiecrat senator, moved from the Democratic party to Independent status in 1970, he symbolized the transition of the South to a two-party system. Both were patriots who served their country in war, and principled, affable, even lovable, gentlemen.

Their near-simultaneous exits, however, tell us something about the ideology of modern journalism. The Scrapbook could not fail to notice that the lugubrious NBC news reader, Brian Williams, said of Scranton that “he used to be referred to as a ‘moderately liberal Republican,’ back when there was such a thing.” Yet no such courtesy was extended to Byrd, who used to be referred to as a conservative Democrat, back when there was such a thing. While the press tends to obsess on the eclipse of liberal Republicans, especially in Congress, it is never mentioned that conservative Democrats, who hailed from all regions of the country and wielded considerable power in their party, are now extinct. 

The reason, presumably, is that while liberal Republicans were a Good Thing, conservative Democrats were a Bad Thing, and good riddance. The irony, of course, is that what made Bill Scranton “liberal” was his support for civil rights in the 1960s, which, in his Democratic days, Harry Byrd opposed. Otherwise the two were essentially indistinguishable: fiscal conservatives, hawks on foreign policy, and critics of the Great Society. We will miss them. 

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