The late Senator Robert Byrd’s (D-WV) memorial service was today. Several prominent politicos, including O’Biden, spoke and paid their respects, as did former President Bill Clinton – but he said one thing during his speech that has left a lot of people scratching their heads:
There are a lot of people who wrote these eulogies for Senator Byrd, and the newspapers, and I read a bunch of them. And they mentioned that he once had a fleeting association with the Ku Klux Klan. And what does that mean?
I’ll tell what you it means. He was a country boy from the hills and hollers of West Virginia. He was trying to get elected. And maybe he did something he shouldn’t have done, and he spent the rest of his life making it up. And that’s what a good person does.
There are no perfect people. There are certainly no perfect politicians.
TPM has the video clip of Clinton’s remarks.
Um … Ok. I try to not to be disrespectful of the recently departed, and I won’t do that now but Bill Clinton is just flat out wrong. In fact, he’s attempting to whitewash (no pun intended) Byrd’s KKK past just as Byrd himself did in a 2005 memoir. Byrd didn’t join the KKK “to get elected.” He joined the KKK because, well, he hated black people. He wasn’t just as a “mere member” who was relunctantly part of the KKK in order to get elected and re-elected: He was a Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops of his local KKK chapter. In fact – and I know this is will be painful for the left to hear but – the KKK was started by Democrats, the party Byrd started as a member of and stayed a member of until his passing.
Bill Clinton is right about one thing, though: Sometimes we do things, are a part of things in our lives that we end up later regretting and trying to make up for. For example, I was once a liberal who was a staunch supporter of the horrid practice of abortion. I live with that guilt, but I will not whitewash it when talking to people about who I am and where I used to be on the political scale. In fact, if I’m ever elected and serve for the rest of my life in public office, when I pass away I hope whichever politicos speak at my funeral won’t gloss over the fact that I was a liberal who used to support abortion. Feel free to mention it. And don’t forget to tell the other people there to pay their respects about the social and political awakening that soon followed for me. I consider it part of my “maturing” process and while I’m not proud of how I started out on political and social issues, I’m very proud that I found it within myself to have a change of heart on a multitude of issues, especially on abortion. I want people to know that.
I didn’t follow Byrd’s time in the Senate closely but I’m guessing he made the proper amends with voters in his state, including black voters who continued to vote for him and that’s fine. Senator Strom Thurmond tried to do similarly, but of course he was given little to no credit by The Usual Suspects, and – unlike Byrd’s tributes in various papers around the country this week – one of the first things mentioned about Thurmond in his obits was his racist past. If that’s the way the mediots and politicos wanted to treat Thurmond, fine, but they shouldn’t treat Byrd differently just because he was a liberal.
No, if we live mostly decent lives we shouldn’t be defined by the things we’ve done wrong; but we shouldn’t ignore our histories, either, not for political correctness nor any other reason. Our histories tell the stories of where we were and our present tells us how far we’ve come, and in some cases have overcome. In the middle of all the sandpaper smoothing out of Robert Byrd’s legacy, that’s something that we should never, ever forget.
May the Byrd family be comforted by the love, support, and prayers of the many people who are holding them in their thoughts and prayers today.
Cross-posted to Right Wing News.