Jonah Goldberg has a good column asking about this.
Not long ago, the assembled forces of liberalism were convinced that the Senate was “broken,” that the anachronistic filibuster impeded progress. The Senate itself, with its arcane rules and procedures, had become undemocratic and was in need of vital reform, according to all of the usual voices. John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress and a sort of archbishop of liberalism these days, drew on his deep command of political theory and social science to explain that the American political system “sucks,” in significant part due to the unwieldiness of the Senate.Think about all those democrats who have been moaning about how our system is broken and we can't get anything done in Congress any more. Well, that is mostly all about the filibuster. So when they're celebrating Byrd as the guardian of the prerogatives of the Senate, that's a big part of what they're celebrating - the very institutions that have liberals like Thomas Friedman wishing we could be more like China.
Well, who better represented those alleged structural problems than Byrd? Nearly every obituary celebrates his “mastery” of the rules. This is from the first paragraph of the Washington Post’s obituary: Byrd “used his masterful knowledge of the institution to shape the federal budget, protect the procedural rules of the Senate and, above all else, tend to the interests of his state.”
Yes, what about his tending to his state’s interests? For several years there’s been a lot of bipartisan indignation over the perfidy of pork and “earmarks.”
Who, pray tell, better represented that practice than Byrd? The man emptied Washington of money and resources with an alacrity and determination not seen since the evacuation of Dunkirk. There are too many of these Byrd droppings in West Virginia to count, but we do know there are at least 30 buildings and other structures in that state named for him. So much for Democrats’ getting the message that Americans are sick of self-aggrandizing politicians.
And then, of course, the liberals are all giving him a pass for his history with the KKK. And they're just gliding over his filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the brightest star in the civil rights firmament. He is second only to Strom Thurmond in filibuster records. Did Strom Thurmond get half the love and admiration for his career that Byrd's death has sparked?
Other than his mastery fo the Senate rules and his manipulation of his role on the Appropriations Committee back to West Virginia, what else was there about the guy to evoke such admiration?