Sen. Robert Byrd has endorsed Obama:

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., endorsed Barack Obama for president shortly after noon today, focusing on his hope to end the Iraq War.

“As people all across this great nation know, I have been one of the most outspoken opponents of the Bush administration’s misguided war in Iraq and its saber rattling around the globe,” Byrd said.

He said he had “no intention of involving myself in the Democratic campaign for President in the midst of West Virginia’s primary election. But the stakes this November could not be higher.”

Byrd praised both Obama and Hillary Clinton, saying their “integrity, honor, love for this country and strong belief in our Constitution I deeply respect…

“Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support,” Byrd concluded.

This is a hugely significant event, not so much in this campaign, but as a bookend to a career that began in 1942 when Robert Byrd joined the Ku Klux Klan. Byrd went on to oppose racial integration of the armed forces, famously writing to Mississippi Governor Theodore Bilbo in 1945:

“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 personally filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for 14 solid hours and voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This shameful record has prevented me from ever having warm feelings for Sen. Byrd. I did appreciate his strong principled stand against the invasion of Iraq and I have long respected his knowledge of and love for the Constitution and Senate rules and procedures, but Byrd was strongly on the wrong side of history at a critical time, and I have a hard time forgiving him. In 2005, Byrd remarked:

“I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times… and I don’t mind apologizing over and over again. I can’t erase what happened.”

Indeed, he cannot erase what happened, but what better way to atone for his racist past than to endorse Barack Obama less than a week after his state showed extreme racial resistance to Obama’s campaign in voting for Clinton by a 41-point margin?

In making this decision, Sen. Byrd has made the ultimate repudiation of his racist and segregationist past. A former Exalted Cyclops in the Ku Klux Klan who filibustered the Civil Rights Act for fourteen hours has just endorsed a black man with Kenyan roots, the very kind of “race mongrel, [and] throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds” that Byrd once promised to “die a thousand deaths” to prevent from degrading ‘Old Glory’. Who can deny the extreme symbolic significance for this endorsement? Sen. Byrd has now truly and wholly repudiated his past, and his legacy will be much redeemed for this act of principle.

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