OK. OK. OK. I know that I was supposed to take a break from my regularly scheduled programming about the madhouse that has become the Democratic race. But I couldn't resist myself.
Today I discovered that in a strange and pretty unexpected turn of events, Sen. Obama has been endorsed by West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd. Yes, that Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
Byrd's endorsement came at a pretty bizarre time; considering that W. Virginia -- the state to whom he is beholden was overwhelmingly pro-Clinton during their primaries. It's strange to me that an elected official would so blatantly go against the wishes of his own state.
But perhaps what's most surreal about this whole thing is the endorsement from Sen. Byrd itself. We're talking about the same Robert Byrd who was formerly of the Ku Klux Klan. The same Robert Byrd who attempted to filibuster a vote for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The same Robert Byrd who opposed the appointments of Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, and Condoleezza Rice because they were black (though I must admit, he got it right with Thomas and Rice. I'm just sayin...)
Optimistically, I'm hoping that Sen. Byrd's endorsement represents the ultimate in redemption. As a former Klansman who fought assiduously to deny blacks any equality whatsoever endorsing a black man for one of the most prominent positions in the world speaks all throughout the cosmos. It's true that Byrd has renounced many of his former racist ways, but no single statement speaks to a potential reformation more than by publicly endorsing the very type of person against whom Byrd was once so opposed.
Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of this situation. I want to believe that Sen. Byrd has made a complete 180; transitioning from a racist with no social or moral constraints to a rehabilitated person who has learned from his mistakes. I mean, I strongly believed in the redemption of Stanley "Tookie" Williams; and I hate everything about gangs. So should Byrd be any different? Obama doesn't seem to think so.
In his latest book The Audacity of Hope, Sen. Obama eloquently states:
Listening to Senator Byrd I felt with full force all the essential contradictions of me in this new place, with its marble busts, its arcane traditions, its memories and its ghosts. I pondered the fact that, according to his own autobiography, Senator Byrd had received his first taste of leadership in his early twenties, as a member of the Raleigh County Ku Klux Klan, an association that he had long disavowed, an error he attributed—no doubt correctly—to the time and place in which he'd been raised, but which continued to surface as an issue throughout his career. I thought about how he had joined other giants of the Senate, like J. William Fulbright of Arkansas and Richard Russell of Georgia, in Southern resistance to civil rights legislation. I wondered if this would matter to the liberals who now lionized Senator Byrd for his principled opposition to the Iraq War resolution—the MoveOn.org crowd, the heirs of the political counterculture the senator had spent much of his career disdaining.
I wondered if it should matter. Senator Byrd's life—like most of ours—has been the struggle of warring impulses, a twining of darkness and light. And in that sense I realized that he really was a proper emblem for the Senate, whose rules and design reflect the grand compromise of America's founding: the bargain between Northern states and Southern states, the Senate's role as a guardian against the passions of the moment, a defender of minority rights and state sovereignty, but also a tool to protect the wealthy from the rabble, and assure slaveholders of noninterference with their peculiar institution. Stamped into the very fiber of the Senate, within its genetic code, was the same contest between power and principle that characterized America as a whole, a lasting expression of that great debate among a few brilliant, flawed men that had concluded with the creation of a form of government unique in its genius—yet blind to the whip and the chain.
From the passage above, it's clear that Obama is ready to turn the other cheek; even to a person who would've fought tooth and nail against a black man ever running for president.
All of this nothwithstanding, I can't help but wonder if Byrd's rehabilitation is more of reflection on the changing of times than it is with the changing of his personal beliefs. For the first time in history, people who engage in racist acts can actually be brought to bear, arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for those activities. Racism -- though still manifesting itself in many covert ways -- simply doesn't have the same kind of openly mainstream validation as it once did. Has Byrd's political career as of late -- including his shocking endorsement -- been a much needed corrective action for his shameful past or is he still the same racist; only closeted because of the lack of overt social and institutional support of racism that existed but a few decades ago?