Wu Dem Klan

|

The gathering Chris Dodd scandal may be the best evidence yet that Democrats are getting serious about going blow-for-blow with the GOP in the upcoming elections.

"It has often been said that the man and the moment come together," the senior senator and Phil Donahue lookalike from the Nutmeg State said last week. "I do not think it is an exaggeration at all to say to my friend from West Virginia that he would have been a great Senator at any moment. Some were right for the time. Robert C. Byrd, in my view, would have been right at any time."

On the occasion of the execrable Byrd's 17,000th vote in the Senate, Dodd opined that Byrd "would have been right during the great conflict of Civil War in this nation," adding, "I cannot think of a single moment in this nation's 220-plus-year history where he would not have been a valuable asset to this country. Certainly today that is not any less true."

Byrd (D-WV) is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan who voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A few thoughts:

• It is terrifying to think that Robert Byrd has voted on 17,000 pieces of legislation.

• Republicans are completely right to declare bullshit on Democrats who heaped contempt on Trent Lott for his comments in praise of retired Senator Strom Thurmond. If nothing else it's incredibly stupid to cite the Civil War as an ideal test of Byrd's character. (I believe he was too old to serve in that one anyway.)

• There are some important differences: Dodd is in the minority, so there isn't much in the way of chairmanships he can be busted down from. Also, Byrd is still serving in the Senate, so it's a little weird to get angry about Dodd for praising Byrd, rather than getting angry at Byrd himself. Lott on the other hand had to die for Strom Thurmond's sins because the proud dad of Essie Mae Washington-Williams wasn't there to kick around anymore. (Not that they would have done much kicking even if he'd still been in office, Thurmond's jolly old elf routine having shielded him from a lifetime of richly deserved disapprobation.)

• If Dodd plays his cards right, he may get to carry on a family tradition of upper-house disgrace. As proud Husky Mike Alissi notes, Senator Thomas Dodd, the current senator's father, was censured in 1967 for helping himself to campaign funds. Here he is in the rogues' gallery, between Tailgunner Joe and Herman Talmadge.

• I remain grateful to Byrd for arguing last year that the invasion of Iraq was a raw deal for America. But since he didn't get anywhere with that stand, the hell with him. While we're condemning Dodd, let's not overlook the glaring fact that the world's most exclusive club contains a former Klansman.

NEXT: The Monte Cassino Test

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Relevant difference between Thurmond and Byrd – Byrd has repeatedly, publicly denounced his previous racism, while Thurmond never did.

    Relevant differences between Dodd and Lott – Dodd was praising a man who has denounced racism. Lott was praising a man who never did, and praising in particular his third party campaign on an uber-segregationist platform. Lott also hangs out with pro-segregation neoconfederates.

    It makes as much sense to attack Byrd for being a racist as to attack Whittacker Chambers for being a communist.

  2. When did Byrd renounce his past racism and leadership role in the Klan?

  3. Relevant difference between Thurmond and Byrd – Byrd has repeatedly, publicly denounced his previous racism, while Thurmond never did.

    Joe, you’re better when you don’t resort to blatant lies.

  4. What Lott/Dodd did was no big deal. In each case, a guy was lauding an older guy in the Senate and didn’t think very deeply what they were saying. That’s all.

    Byrd created some trouble in his day being a major poobah of the KKK. But being a big-name American speaking out against the war, giving our enemies hope that if they just keep fighting they can turn things around, is far more damaging to America in the long run.

  5. Joe writes: “Relevant difference between Thurmond and Byrd – Byrd has repeatedly, publicly denounced his previous racism, while Thurmond never did.”

    Byrd said: “I’ve met a lot of white N—–s, I’m going to use that term . . .” and that was just last year. Yep, Byrd certainly renounced racism. Yep, Byrd isn’t a prisoner of his earlier belifs. Yep. yep. yeah. NOT

  6. I find all four Senators to be despicable. Picking the worst of Lott, Dodd, Byrd, and Thurmond is something to argue about, but I think it’s pretty likely that not one of those rich bastards gives a crap about his constituents.

    I forget who said it, but wasn’t Byrd’s Senatorial nickname “Sheets”? And as for the world’s most exclusive club having a Klansman (ret.) on its rolls, I wish that 1% was where it stopped. If politicians were honest, my guess would be 12 or 15 members. And about half would be Northerners.

  7. What About Byrd?
    Unlike Thurmond, he renounced his racist past.
    By Timothy Noah
    Posted Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2002, at 11:28 AM PT

    Since posting an item pointing out that, contrary to Washington legend, Strom Thurmond never renounced his segregationist past, Chatterbox has been inundated with rude e-mails. The theme of these e-mails is: What about former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd? Byrd, a Democrat who still represents West Virginia, belonged to the Ku Klux Klan when he was a young man. Past membership in the Klan is heavier moral baggage than past advocacy of segregation. But Byrd, unlike Thurmond, renounced his youthful participation in a racist cause. See, for example, this exchange with CNN’s Bernard Shaw in Dec. 1993:

    Q: What has been your biggest mistake and your biggest success?

    A: Well, it’s easy to state what has been my biggest mistake. The greatest mistake I ever made was joining the Ku Klux Klan. And I’ve said that many times. But one cannot erase what he has done. He can only change his ways and his thoughts. That was an albatross around my neck that I will always wear. You will read it in my obituary that I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

  8. Jeez folks, the man was a kkk member in his early twenties, he’s now in his eighties. Are you the same people you were even 10 years ago? Show some grace.
    This is like portraying Benjamin Franklin, the man who was in the 1780s president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage as nothing but a racist slave owner.
    roper, you can’t possibly construe that ill-chosen word as an expression of racism.
    What about Mr. Byrd’s principled stand on the eve of the Iraq war and many other occasions? So it’s his fault he was in the minority? To hell with him? The man is a fighter for the Constitution like few others.
    Kind of surprises me that some people at Reason would trash him. If you trash him, who is left to uphold? Come on Tim, answer that question or I’ll have to think you trash for the sake of trashing. Sort of like some liberals of old. Deconstruct, but never worry about building anything in it’s stead.
    Disclaimer: I live in West Virginia.

  9. Well, it’s easy to state what has been my biggest mistake. The greatest mistake I ever made was joining the Ku Klux Klan. And I’ve said that many times. But one cannot erase what he has done. He can only change his ways and his thoughts. That was an albatross around my neck that I will always wear. You will read it in my obituary that I was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

    That’s not exactly a ringing renunciation of his membership. Why does he regret joining? Is it because it was wrong to do so, or because it’s going to look bad that he did so? Maybe he really does regret it because he shouldn’t have been racist, but that quote only establishes that he regrets the negative consequences to himself of having been a Klan member.

  10. I find Byrd to be a pork-loving blowhard, just like his fellow Senators. He may indeed have recovered from his days as a Klansman, but he’s nothing to cheer about.

  11. The Byrd “apology” nowhere denounces the Klan, says it was wrong, admits it was a criminal organization, or anything of the sort. It is a classic “I’m sorry I was caught” inside-the-beltway apology.

    You’ll have to do better than that, Dem-defenders.

  12. Hey, RC DEAN, this isn’t about “dem defenders”. The last thing I am is a demmycrat. No, this is about hogwash PC oversensitive bullshit overshadowing the REAL wrongs that our esteemed representatives perpetrate every day. Why is it that the president can downright LIE about the price of an already-sickening medicare bill, just so he can get it passed, and we hear nary a word about it…but Lott or Dodd make comments, COMMENTS, that are construed to mean something that they obviously did not intend, and the country is aghast? It’s fucking pathetic.

  13. Relevant difference between Thurmond and Byrd – Byrd has repeatedly, publicly denounced his previous racism, while Thurmond never did.

    So the difference would be that Robert “White Niggers” Byrd is a lying, hypocritical racist son of a bitch, whereas Thurmond was merely a racist son of a bitch?

  14. No, this is about hogwash PC oversensitive bullshit overshadowing the REAL wrongs that our esteemed representatives perpetrate every day. Why is it that the president can downright LIE [snivel bitch moan whine]

    In other words, it doesn’t matter that Byrd favored lynching black men half a century ago… what matters is that he supported a genocidal fascist named Saddam Hussein in 2003?

    I agree with you; good point.

  15. “this is no big deal, and Lott’s comments at Thurmond’s last birthday party should not have been either.”

    There are two big, and one small, reason why Lott’s comments were a bigger deal. First, Lott plays kissey face with outspoken, proud segregationists, refusing to say a disparaging word about the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC, like the KKK, except the soft sound instead of the hard. Get it?), which is the renamed White Citizens Councils that shut down the public schools in the south to prevent integration. Second, Lott explicitly singled out for praise Thurmond’s Dixiecrat bid for president, saying the country would be better off if the 1948 election had been won by a candidate who was fighting, primarily, to keep black people out of “out” clubs, schools, and swimming pools. And third, and least important, Lott and Thurmond are from the party that is equated with racism, and Dodd and Byrd are from the party that is equated with anti-racism.

  16. Sheesh. We seemed to have forgotten the primary rule when dealing with politicians: “How do you know a politician is lying?” You know the rest.

    I’m sure that Byrd is penitent in regards to his Klansman past, when the cameras are on him. But saying is no indication of what a person is actually thinking. I say that Byrd realizes that his party has changed since the 1960s, but to keep his power he changes his tune. What was once a hardline bigot suddenly becomes a defender of American liberalism.

    Of course, I’ve got a feeling that what Byrd thinks and says about minorities in private is whole different story.

  17. I’m amused by the reference to Byrd’s 17,000 votes and various cherry picking of Kerry’s thousands of votes cast over the past two decades.

    It just struck me that Bush has never in his life cast a public vote. Further, he’s never vetoed a bill during his presidency.

    Now, carry on.

  18. Mark S,

    You may be right. But the guy’s, like, 140 years old. Denouncing the Klan in public puts him in the top 1% of his age bracket on racial issues.

    Kind of funny to see conservative libertarians using a vote against the Kennedy/Johnson federal Civil Rights agenda as proof of racism, though.

  19. joe,

    Lott explicitly singled out for praise Thurmond’s Dixiecrat bid for president, saying the country would be better off if the 1948 election had been won by a candidate who was fighting, primarily, to keep black people out of “out” clubs, schools, and swimming pools.

    Did you actually watch the video of his infamous statement? It was obviously intended as a JOKE. Jokes are common fare at birthday parties for old people. “Maybe we wouldn’t have had all these problems if you’d won back then.” Rash? Yes. Stupid? Yes. A solemn pronouncement of support for segregation? No.

    And third, and least important, Lott and Thurmond are from the party that is equated with racism, and Dodd and Byrd are from the party that is equated with anti-racism.

    That is so silly it barely merits a response. So you’re saying that if a Senator makes a “racist” comment, it’s OK if he’s a Dem, but a scandal if he’s a Repub?

  20. Who cares if he loved his time in the Klan or not? The big news hear is that they’re lauding the biggest thug in the joint. There isn’t an overpriced publics work monument in the state of W. Va that isn’t named for the man. He has siphoned the wealth of a nation to fund boondoggles in what is mostly still a backwater.

    Also, of his long and lovely career, I’m sure there are worse statements to come from Dodd’s mouth. Can no one find him praising Castro?

  21. Captain is right; this is no big deal, and Lott’s comments at Thurmond’s last birthday party should not have been either. If Thurmond had still been a Democrat, they would not have been.

    I have to say Dodd’s comments, like Lott’s, bear the strong suggestion of thoughts that the Senator put into words himself without running them by staff. This is almost always a mistake. Senators should naturally have their own thoughts and some are even able to speak extempore, but speaking without clearing the tone and content of one’s remarks with staff is tempting fate.

    In this case, staff would likely have advised Dodd to confine his remarks to Byrd’s dedication and service to the Senate as an institution, his mastery of its rules, his history of the Senate, his jealous devotion to the interests of West Virginia. No one could have objected to that. Similarly Lott could have avoided all the trouble over the Thurmond remarks by addressing his comments to any of the 99 years of Thurmond’s life in which Thurmond did not run for President.

    This wouldn’t have meant either Dodd or Lott would be immune to the gibes of snot-nosed moral poseurs in the press and the blogosphere, but these are of little consequence. The point is that the alert senator is aware that it is best not to be controversial unless one wishes to be controversial; staff is there to see that controversy is avoided unless it is something the senator really wants for some reason. Since the reason will usually not be a very good one staff is also there to try and talk him out of it, but this is unnecessary most of the time.

  22. grylliade,
    What is ambivalent about this sentence?

    “He can only change his ways and his thoughts.”

  23. crimethink, it was Ole Miss Trent Lott praising the Dixiecrat bid. Ha ha, that is funny.

    “So you’re saying that if a Senator makes a “racist” comment, it’s OK if he’s a Dem, but a scandal if he’s a Repub?” The post you refer to was an analysis of the public’s response, not the merits of the comment itself. “A” “racist” “comment” “is” “wrong” “no” “matter” “who” “says” “it.”

  24. One man’s pork is another man’s charity. Think about that and you’ll wonder why his KKK membership never cost him an election.

  25. So I guess former Democrat Ronald Reagan was a lying, hypocritical liberal son of a bitch, in Dan’s formulation.

  26. Even the American Prospect had to give Thurmond a pass noting how he had “made up” for his past… There is no record of Byrd condemning the specific racist policies of the Klan, and every time another racist, Klan-praising quote from his past pops up, he denies it, then it’s confirmed to be accurate.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.