Monday, May 19, 2008

Redemptive endorsement...?

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 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?

Your thoughts?


14 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

nic said...

I'm super suspicious, although something tells me that had Byrd not made the effort, the state of West Virgina probably wouldn't have held it against him, seeing how he's held his current post for almost 50 years. Given that, I'm failing to see his angle. Is the bloke dying, or what?


Andre said...

Hey Nic,

I can't call this one. It's funny that I'd suspect Hillary of foul play long before I would a person who was a hardcore member of the Klan.

Maybe the self-actualization that comes with being 148 years old is starting to take it's toll. I dunno.

Megan said...

I for one an proud of Sen. Byrd. By his gesture (juxtaposed to his history), I see him as a prime examaple of one who can turn away from the trap of racism and hatred that has ensnared this country for too long. Being a member of the Klan is like being at the penacle of a career in hate. But if he can overcome that, I has a renewed confidence in mankind. Furthermore, if Sen. Byrd can make this kind of admiable change to his life, those white, aging, racially bigoted people in rural America might be able to follow his lead and change themselves. Obama's message of change and hope could not be more appropriate than by looking at Sen. Byrd.

Cynthia said...

Sen. Byrd’s endorsement is chalked full of history and irony. During Obama's UNIFYING campaign, he has been able to attract a former Klan member. Oppositely, Clinton's DIVISIVE campaign has been pushed in large part by people vehemently opposed to supporting a non-white person. This only supports the idea that Obama is the TRUE candidate for change.

Ellena said...

I agree Cynthia. When an ex member of the Ku Klux Klan can support a man with dark skin and dark hair, real change is on the horizon.

Anonymous said...

Here we go! I should've seen this coming. Obama gets an EX Klan member and everyone waves the peace and reconciliation flag. Get a clue folks. It's not like he's a CURRENT Klan member who's endorsing Obama.

On top of that, it's funny how Cynthia is trying to blame Hillary for the voting habits/behaviors of her supporters. Just because they can't see/don't want a black man as president, that somehow makes Clinton the culprit. Yet nobody has commented on how Hillary has dealt with her own racism (over 90% of blacks are voting against her, a white woman) and the clearcut sexist attacks she's face. Bias knows no limits on this blog, it seems.

The H.C. said...

O.K. I find it hysterical that everyone assumes that Bobby "Sheets" Byrd has changed his stripes. In 1964 he filibustered the Civil Rights Act for 14 hours, a Senate record he still holds. In 1965 he opposed the Voting Rights Act. In 1967 he opposed the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice and a Democrat appointee. In 1991 he opposed Clarence Thomas, another black justice, and most recently, he led the opposition against Condelesa Rice, who now holds the highest position ever held by a black woman. This is a man who once said he would "never fight with a negro by my side. Rather I should die a thousand deaths 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”?
If these deeds and statements were made by a Republican, I find it hard to believe we would be having this conversation.

Cynthia said...


Hillary Clinton has done more racebaiting in this campaign than any Republican could. Don't think this hasn't impacted things so far. THAT'S why she only has about 8% of the black population on her side when she initially had a far greater amount supporter.

the h.c.,

If that same Republican you mentioned killed all of that racist noise he was making and married a black woman, I'd be equally as impressed. The ultimate point is that we have a person with a clear and shamefully racist past attempting to atone for it by endorsing a black person (well, half black. But you get the general idea). Maybe his endorsement was done solely to make up for his past. Or maybe it was done to reflect how he truly believes in Obama. Either way, it's impressive to me.

KC said...


Sen. Byrd is easily pushing 130 years old. Sensing that his time in the Senate is going to be over soon, I can see why he'd make a vote opposite to what the rest of his state did. He doesn't plan on getting re-elected, so he refused to represent WV's interests. That addresses your "why" question.

All that notwithstanding, Byrd endorsing a black man is pretty shocking (in a good way. I think...). The Clinton camp must be steamed right now.

Kenya said...

theh.c., how can you explain Sen. Byrd's endorsement of a BLACK MAN as NOT "changing his stripes"? I guess there is always the possibility that Obama is just a toy for Byrd and the rest of the Klan to play with while they try to annihilate all other black people.

nic said...

" can you explain Sen. Byrd's endorsement of a BLACK MAN as NOT "changing his stripes"?

@ Kenya: Yeah, people can (& do) change. But I'm skeptical. Byrd's track record pertaining to race is...well, let's just say it'll probably be a movie someday, 'cause you seriously can't make up some of the shit he's done. I'll give him props for the many times that he's stood up to the current administration (i.e. votes against the Iraq War, creation of the Dept. Homeland Security, etc.), but I can't help to compare the thinking that an almost life-long racist can all of a sudden have an epiphany & change, to the dumb-ass thinking that a pedophile can be "cured".


The H.C. said...

@ anonymous,
I suppose I should give B.B. the benefit of the doubt, but this isn't your average racist.I wonder if he even knows what he's saying anymore. He is, after all, in his 90's. The clips I've seen of him lately show a man in the beginnings of Alzheimers. I still believe with all my heart that if B.B. was a Republican he would have been forced out a long time ago for his "white niggers" comment if not for his racist past.

The H.C. said...

I guess I would explain it in the way I explained it to Anonymous. This is a man who's faculties are slipping fast. I'm not sure someone else didn't put the words in his mouth for him. Or maybe he figures that the KKK endorsed Barack so it's O.K. to endorse him too. That IS where he used to get his marching orders.

Andre said...

As for me and my house, the jury is still out on this story. I know, I know. That sounds waaaaay fence-straddling for me. I'll grant you that. But I seriously am torn on this one.