Monday, January 24, 2005

Byrd's problem with black folks

Robert Byrd has held up (or thwarted) three nominees of note during his shoddy lifetime: Justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and now Dr. Condi Rice. The common bond with these three distinguished individuals: they're all black. It seems as though the former Grand Kleagle of the KKK has a problem with African-Americans holding prominent positions in society.

Byrd's recent racial history, outlined in Wikipedia:

On March 4, 2001, an interview with FOX News Sunday host Tony Snow was aired. In the interview Byrd was asked about race relations: "They are much, much better than they've ever been in my lifetime," Byrd said. "I think we talk about race too much. I think those problems are largely behind us... I just think we talk so much about it that we help to create somewhat of an illusion. I think we try to have good will. My old mom told me, 'Robert, you can't go to heaven if you hate anybody.' We practice that." Then Byrd warned: "There are white niggers. I've seen a lot of white niggers in my time; I'm going to use that word."

"We just need to work together to make our country a better country, and I'd just as soon quit talking about it so much."

Byrd's office later issued an apology.

"I apologize for the characterization I used on this program. The phrase dates back to my boyhood and has no place in today's society. As for my language, I had no intention of casting aspersions on anyone of another race."

American conservatives have pointed to Byrd's comments as evidence of a double standard in the treatment of Democratic and Republican political figures in regards to controversial statements about race (see Trent Lott, Rush Limbaugh). Limbaugh made this point loudly, more in reference to the Lott controversy than the one surrounding himself, when fellow Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd said in praise of Byrd, "There has never been a time in U.S. history that he would not have been right for. He would have been right for the Founding. He would have been right for the Civil War ..." Limbaugh stated that as Byrd had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, he would have undoubtedly been on the side of the Confederate States of America, and hence slavery, during the Civil War, and wondered if Dodd really thought that was right. However, no general outcry in the mainstream media ensued, and the incident was hardly mentioned outside the venues of right-wing talk radio and FOX News -- a silence cited by those sources as evidence of a Liberal bias in mainstream media, protecting the Democrats (Dodd and Byrd) and yet loudly attacking Republicans (Lott and Thurmond) for a milder version of the same behavior.
A recent ill-informed visitor to this blog attempted a weak-ass defense of Byrd by invoking Trent Lott's poorly worded praise of Strom Thurmond two years ago. Considering that neither Thurmond nor Lott were ever in the KKK, it's a poor defense. But that's the point: while you'd be hard-pressed to find conservatives or Libertarians who will defend Thurmond's sordid past, you will have no trouble finding scores of liberals who will defend Senator "Sheets" Byrd. An argument can be made that Thurmond repented later in his life (another topic for another day). Considering Byrd's comments just four years ago, as well as his nominee hold-ups, no such argument can be made for Byrd.

But damned if liberals don't try to spin his defense anyway!