A reflection on Biden’s praise for the former KKK community organizer who “elevated the Senate.”
“Although I and my colleagues behind me revere the Senate, Robert C. Byrd elevated the Senate,” said vice president Joe Biden in the July 2010 memorial service for Sen. Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who passed away at 92 after an eventful life. Back in 1975, the Atlantic billed Byrd as “The Man Who Runs the Senate,” while skipping details about Byrd’s career as a community organizer for the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1942, when he was 25, Byrd formed a new Klan chapter in Sophia, West Virginia, and in 1944 Byrd wrote to segregationist Senator Theodore Bilbo, Mississippi Democrat: “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side. 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 claimed he left the Klan, but in public life the stank of racism was still wafting strong.
In 1967, Byrd voted against the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1991, when embattled Bush nominee Clarence Thomas pushed back against the “high-tech lynching of uppity blacks,” Byrd dismissed it a “diversionary tactic.” Sen. Joe Biden joined the former Ku Klucker in voting against Thomas. Nearly 20 years later, Sen. Biden was still looking up to the man who not only elevated the Senate but embodied it.
“Robert C. Byrd was a parliamentary library, a keeper of the institution of the Senate, and he was the institution itself,” Biden said. “For a lot of us, he was a friend, and he was a mentor and he was a guide,” within limits. As Biden explained, when he ran for President, Byrd said “I don’t want any senators running for president because you never come back and vote when I need you.”
As Biden said, “So I made a promise that no matter where I was, if he called me and said he needed my vote, I’d drop whatever I was doing and I’d come. And I kept the commitment.” The former Ku Klucker’s wish was Joe Biden’s command.
“But, ladies and gentlemen, of course, it’s more than the name we’re not going to forget,” Biden said of Byrd. “It’s his courage. He died like he lived. He died like he lived his life. He never stopped fighting.” And as Joe wrapped it up, “Mr. Leader, we’re not going to look upon your like again,” and so forth.
“He was a Senate icon,” said the president formerly known as Barry Soetoro. “He was a Party leader. He was an elder statesman. And he was my friend. That’s how I’ll remember him.” Byrd had told the president about things he came to regret, from his youth. “None of us are absent some regrets, Senator,” the president said.
Former First Lady Hillary Clinton called Robert Byrd her “friend and mentor” and Democrats avoided any mention of his career as a prominent Ku Klucker. In that cause, Clinton, Biden et al had some curious company.
Abortion godmother Margaret Sanger, who colluded with Ku Kluckers, saw abortion as a way to reduce the number of black people in the world. In similar style, former Ku Klucker Robert Byrd didn’t want African American Thurgood Marshall on the U.S. Supreme Court. Sen. Joe Biden joined Byrd in opposing African American Clarence Thomas, and shows no regrets for the high-tech lynching he conducted.
In Joe Biden’s third run for president, his affection for Byrd has escaped notice. On the other hand, the Klan issue has resurfaced with other prominent Democrats.
Last year Virginia governor Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist, had barely finished publicly touting infanticide when a page from his 1984 medical school yearbook suddenly went viral. The page showed a photo of a man in blackface standing beside a man in a Ku Klux Klan robe. The Virginia Democrat acknowledge he was one of the men in the photos but didn’t say which. Northam then denied that he was in the photo but acknowledged he had once darkened his face to look like Michael Jackson.
As CNN reported, “Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner refrained from calling on him to resign,” but freshman Virginia Democrat Rep. Elaine Luria called for Northam to step down. Sen. Kamala Harris, a candidate for president, declared “the stain of racism should have no place in the halls of government” and called for Northam to step aside. Joe Biden said “Northam has lost all moral authority,” but he remains in office.
In the Democrat Party, you can be a former Ku Klucker, praise Ku Kluckers, put on your best blackface, and retain the support of party bosses. Robert Byrd acolyte Joe Biden can tell African Americans “you ain’t black” and remain the Democrat candidate for president of the United States. As President Trump says, we’ll have to see what happens.