I wondered aloud last night as we walked home from watching Drivin' Sideways at Ann Arbor's Summer Festival why the (gigantic) US flag on Michigan's central quadrangle was at half mast. I also suggested, in jest, that it might be in honor of recently deceased Senator Robert Byrd. But I did not really think it could be that. Why would anyone outside his home state of West Virginia even care?
It turns out I was wrong. Michigan is honoring the senator, a self-important buffoon and the porkmeister of all vote-buying porkmeisters. Byrd personally embodies nearly all of the things that are most distasteful about successful politicians; his demise will almost certainly improve the average quality of US senators.
It is too bad that Michigan's President, Mary Sue Coleman, did not take this opportunity to exercise some leadership by choosing not to obey the state legislature's order to lower the flag. In honoring Byrd we dishonor ourselves. Surely publicly memorializing former Ku Klux Klan members is not what the university should be about (not even if they recanted when it became politically useful to do so), and the choice to defy the state and not lower the flag would have provided a fine example for our students.
Addendum: The Economist is much too kind.
Addendum 2: Radley Balko gets it right.
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