The New York Times features a predictably fawning profile of former Ku Klux Klan Kleagle and current West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd: “A master of Senate’s ways is still parrying in his twilight.” By contrast with its coverage of the Pope’s death, the Times had no problem finding quotes from supporters of Senator Byrd before press time.
Robert Byrd is indeed a valuable link not only to the Senate’s past, but also to the Democratic Party’s history as the party of slavery, segregation, and opposition to equal treatment of blacks. Times reporter Sheryl Stolberg obviously loves Byrd’s cornpone constitutional shtick in favor of filibustering a Republican president’s judicial appointees. It’s a shame that Stolberg exerted no effort to put Byrd’s shtick in the context it merits.
Byrd is old enough, for example, to have vowed memorably regarding the integration of the Armed Forces by President Truman that he would never fight “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.”
Even after his resignation from the Klan, Byrd continued to hold it in high esteem, writing to the Klan’s Imperial Wizard in 1946: “The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia.”
And Byrd is old enough to have participated in filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as to have voted against it after cloture along with 18 other Democrats — in the name of the Constitution, of course. Funny Stolberg didn’t invite Byrd to take a walk down memory lane on that subject. It would have been highly illuminating. (Thanks to Deroy Murdock’s excellent NRO column: “Dems need a houseclean.”)
More recently, Byrd put his eloquent voice to use in an interview with Tony Snow on Fox News Sunday. Here Byrd harked back to the days of old, but with a twist, observing that “there are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of white niggers in my time.” Walter Williams mordantly wondered “whether he was talking about whites who act like blacks.”
In the Times article Byrd cites the late Georgia Senator Richard Russell as his mentor and quotes the advice Russell gave him regarding the ways of the Senate. Russell was a wise man in many ways, but he was also one of the signers of the infamous 1956 Southern Manifesto opposing Brown v. Board of Education — in the name of the Constitution, of course.
Also signing the Southern Manifesto was the late Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina. Like Byrd, Ervin was resurrected as a heroic cornpone constitutionalist in the eyes of the elite media. Ervin was born again during his chairmanship of the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973. As with Senator Byrd today, all was forgiven.
The Times profile of Byrd is accompanied by the photo above by Doug Mills with the caption: “Senator Robert C. Byrd, after speaking at a MoveOn.org rally last month in Washington, defending the use of the filibuster to block judicial nominees.” Only a fellow as supremely lacking in self-awareness as Senator Byrd can miss the inadvertent allusion to the black power salute of the late 1960’s in Byrd’s gesture, or to the “right on” salute of the radical left of the same period, or other more remote historical precedents that Senator Byrd himself loves to invoke against his Republican opponents.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill
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