If it weren't for the view of the U.S. Capitol glistening across the river, a visitor at Alexandria's Ramada Inn yesterday might have thought he were in Des Moines or Little Rock.
In was the annual pre-Thanksgiving luncheon of 26 service and civic clubs of "the most historic city in the nation," and 230 community leaders had turned out on a star-spangled fall day. They sang "My Country Tis of Thee." They pledged allegiance to the flag. They prayed for the safety of the hostages in Iran and then they listened to the unexpurgated conservatism of the Honorable Harry Flood Byrd Jr. of Virginia.
Standing before the banners of the Kiwanis, Rotary, Optimist, Right-to-Life, Chamber of Commerce, Pta, DAR, dentists, lawyers and community singers, Kiwanis vice president Bill Armstrong introduced the speaker: "I'm sure you all love him and trust him and honor him as I do . . . the most loved senator, the senior senator, the number one senator . . . Harry Byrd."
The white-haired politician, whose status as the only independent in the U.S. Senate serves as a bridge between his father, a Democratic senator, and his son, a would-be Republican officer-holder, waded into a speech that would have stirred them in Kokomo and Peoria with itsc cut-the-welfare, bolster-the-defense, wave-the-flag rhetoric.
The vision of Middle America was enchanced by Byrd's repeated references to the city where he works as "Washington, D.C.," much the way an Easterner might refer to "St. Louis, Missouri" or "Cincinnati, Ohio."
He spoke extemporaneously, offering what he called "a Byrd's eye view" of happenings across the river. Surveying the predominantly white crowd of businessmen, Byrd said, "I don't see many business people where I work. In Washington, D.C., the people are like Boy Scouts, anxious to help you across the street, even if you don't want to go."
He reeled off a series of political jokes, the butt of which were his "big spending" colleagues on Capitol Hill, who remind him of "someone who drinks too much whiskey at night. The next day, you either must put up with the discomfort of a hangover, or start drinking again. Our federal government has become a spendaholic."
The new federal budget, he said, is $548 billion, an increase of 11 percent.
"That will fight inflation about as effectively as gasoline puts out a fire."
He decided the "government's own reckless, deficit spending" as the major factor contributing to inflation. He had proposed a constitutional amendment that would limit federal spending and require a balanced budget, but he said his liberal colleagues chide him, saying, "Don't worry, Harry, all we need to do is add it to the debt."
The only applause the speech provoked resulted from Byrd's statement that he had arrived a few minutes late because of "a two-hour debate on my resolution." The measure would prohibit the president from unilaterally dissolving a mutual defense treaty without the consent of the Senate. Byrd said he was happy to report that "my resolution was sustained by a vote of 59 to 35."
The audience applauded what appeared to be a man arrived fresh from a triumph on the Senate floor. Byrd didn't mention that he had introduced the resolution last January, in the wake of the Taiwan treaty dissolution; that the resolution has no force of law, and that the vote occurred June 6. What happened yesterday what that Byrd reiterated the importance of his resolution during a debate on the legality of the president's action.
Afterward, Kiwanis Club President Dick Hills, an assistant superintendent of schools in Alexandria, gave Byrd a plaque "for honorable service to state and country," and the benediction was pronounced by the chairman of the club's spiritual aims committee.
Most of the gregarious, backslapping men in attendance seemed pleased. As Rotarian Monroe (Chip) Whitton explained, "This is a business crowd, profit-oriented. And the fiscal excesses across the river continue to be a horror story."
Beer distributor Joseph M. Guiffre agreed, saying Byrd "is one of the most common-sense men" in government. Sidney Katz, an Optimist Club member who sells and services car radios, added, "You get something extra to hear him in person."
But a young woman who was rolling up her organization's banner said, "This audience is a little different than most in Virginia. Some of his ideas are not as warmly received as they might be elsewhere."
She said there was "quite a bit of murmuring at our table" when Byrd defended his decision not to expand his list of potential federal judges to make room for minority and female candidates.
One of the few black men in the audience said he wasn't bothered by Byrd's stance on judges. "He talked about what we wanted to hear -- fighting inflation."