As I noted in Carnacki’s diary, I can’t stand Robert Byrd. And it drives me nuts that so many progressives, especially young ones, seem to idolise him. Yup, he was solidly against the Iraq war, for whatever that’s worth. So were Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak–are they progressive heroes too?
See below the fold for the skinny on this despicable man.
The following is excerpted from a 2002 WaPo column by Colbert I. King, who doesn’t pull punches on Democrats to be sure, but who is also no Republican. All emphases mine.
On the business about Byrd’s brief Klan membership, Mr. Jackson again quoted the story: “The fact is that he was a Kleagle, or organizer, for the Klan during World War II and wrote as late as 1946 to Dr. Samuel Green of Atlanta, Imperial Grand Wizard of the Klan, recommending a friend as a Kleagle and urging promotion of the Klan throughout the nation.”
Mr. Jackson said the story also reported that in 1946, Byrd wrote to Imperial Wizard Green: “The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia.”
Byrd knew what he was doing, said Mr. Jackson. In 1945, a year earlier, Byrd wrote to Mississippi’s virulent segregationist Sen. Theodore Bilbo that he would never serve in an integrated Army. “Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds,” Byrd wrote. Confronted with the letter in 1999, Byrd said he didn’t recall writing it, but he said, “I will not dispute the quote, though I consider it deplorable.”
Mr. Jackson, ever the historian, said that in 1946, the same year Kleagle Robert Byrd was writing to his imperial wizard, six blacks were lynched in America, including two black couples at the Moore’s Ford Bridge near Monroe, Ga., and a young black man who was burned alive with a blowtorch by a Louisiana mob. And a black Army veteran also had his eyes gouged out with the butt of a billy club by South Carolina police.
The resurgence of lynchings and violence against blacks in the South got so bad in ’46 that President Truman was spurred to order a special federal investigation. That same year, Byrd was elected to the West Virginia legislature. Four years later, he went to Congress, where he’s been ever since.
Wikipedia also talks about the Klan membership and the letter to Bilbo, and then adds more to the already damning evidence:
In 1964 he opposed the Civil Rights Act by setting the Senate record for filibuster, stalling it for 14 straight hours. He was against U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s integration of the military. He opposed the nomination of Thurgood Marshall to the United States Supreme Court in 1967-he wrote to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, asking if there was information about Marshall’s ties to Communists. Byrd led the segregationist members of the Senate in opposition to Marshall’s nomination.
In 1968, Senator Byrd said: “Martin Luther King fled the scene. He took to his heels and disappeared, leaving it to others to cope with the destructive forces he had helped to unleash. And I hope that well-meaning negro leaders and individuals in the negro community in Washington will now take a new look at this man who gets other people into trouble and then takes off like a scared rabbit.”
I don’t care if Sen. Byrd “has changed” (though I am extremely sceptical that he has fundamentally changed, deep down). I’m not saying he should be killed, or jailed; but what he has done is certainly enough to disqualify him from being an elected representative in good standing of the modern Democratic Party, much less a progressive hero! And the “dirt” is not all from decades ago. Just last year, he was one of only two Democratic senators (three, if you count Zell Miller, which I don’t) to vote for the anti-gay marriage amendment. Wake up, people–this guy is a bigtime loser!
And it’s not just ethics that should cause us to wash our hands of him. As long as he is in the party, the GOP cannot be exposed as the inheritor (after 1968) of the Southern white racist voting bloc, without guys like Sean Hannity being able to blunt the attack by pointing to Byrd. This makes him a political liability, even if you don’t share my enmity for him.