Nearly one month before U.S. forces began their assault on Baghdad in the spring of 2003, then-eighty-five-year-old Robert Byrd took the Senate floor to scold his colleagues for failing to debate the looming preemptive war on Iraq. Asserting that while ordinary Americans were talking at home about this historic military confrontation and its potential consequences for their security and prosperity, the West Virginia Democrat said with characteristic rhetorical flourish:
This chamber is for the most part ominously, dreadfully silent. You can hear a pin drop. Listen. You can hear a pin drop. There is no debate. There is no discussion. There is no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.
Ticking off the names of hallowed signatories of the Declaration of Independence and delegates to the Constitutional Convention, Byrd suggested that Democrats and Republicans alike were tarnishing their institutional legacy by failing to thoroughly discuss momentous national decisions: “We stand passively mute in the Senate today, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. This is no small conflagration that we contemplate. It is not going to be a video game.”