Where's Democratic outrage/embarrassment over Robert Byrd?

Democratic Senators made a huge fuss over the nomination of John Ashcroft, and (in particular) his affection for various old Confederate totems and his opposition to an African-American judicial nominee named Ronnie White.

All of which leads me to ask… if there were a Senator who belonged to the KKK, who passionately opposed the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall as a SUpreme Court Justice (inciodentally, only ONE Republican Senator voted against the lazy, stupid, incompetent, and WAAAAAY out of the mainstream Marshall, but that’s another argument), and who vehemently argued for school segregation as recently as 1975… and IF that Senator wanted to be the Democrats’ Majority Leader…

Well, surely such a man wouldn’t stand a chance, would he? NO Democrat would EVER vote for such a man as Majority Leader, would he? NOT the idealistic Dems who fought so hard against John Ashcrost and Robert Bork!

And if that former Klansman (who still runs around using the “N” word) were to seek chairmanship of the all-powerful Appropriations Committee, that could NEVER happen, could it? Surely, Teddy Kennedy and Joe Biden would NEVER stand for that!

In short, I ask: Democrats seek evidence of Republican bigotry EVERYWHERE. Can anyone explain why the embarrassing. moronic RObert Byrd has gotten a free pass for so long?

Do you know who originally voted for Byrd for majority leader? It was a long time ago, and the Senate Democratic caucus was quite different from what it is now. I mean, Byrd became Democratic floor leader under some sort of caucus vote and we haven’t seen that roll call. I’ll bet that the liberals you hate the most had a candidate of their own, and that it was the conservative Democrats who supported Byrd.

When did Byrd use the n-word?

I don’t think Biden or Kennedy would have had much say in who became chair of the appropriations committee. Committee chairs are selected by seniority - that is how party mavericks get them. The Republicans have had plenty of liberals in party chairmanships.

I believe Byrd’s membership in the Klan ended in 1947, even before your President pro tempore challenged Truman, which was before he decided your party suited his segregationist purposes better than the Democrats.

A little encylopedia blurb:

Byrd was majority leader from 1977-1980 and from 1987-88.

If you’re looking for a Democrat to admit being embarrassed by sharing a party with the remnants of the old racist South that haven’t yet switched to the Republicans, here’s one. My sympathies lie with the party that has (mostly) matured beyond and repudiated that contemptible part of our country’s past, and its remnants in the present, not with the party that has embraced it and thereby regressed. I do recognize that there are regional pockets where party affiliation has different connotations than nationally, and that includes Byrd’s affiliation as a West Virginia Democrat. It may well be that he’s kept his party affiliation partly out of fear of alienating the union coal miner vote.

Senate tradition gives more weight to being a member of the club, with all the privileges that seniority provides, than to such mundane matters as philosophies of government and working for the people, etc. In short, Byrd (and Thurmond and Kennedy, while were at it, and many others) are respected because they’ve been there so long that they’ve been forgiven for positions and actions they took in a past that doesn’t resemble the present.

Blaming seniority is a copout. To become Senate Majority leader, Byrd had to be ELECTED by his fellow Democrats, in a secret ballot. That means a MINIMUM of 26 Democratic Senators (including most of those who voted against Robert Bork) voted for a Klansman and segregationist as their leader.

You CAN’T weasel out of this, democrats! YOUR party’s top representatives chose a Klansman and segregationist to lead them. Deal with it.

As compared to the way you’re “dealing with” Trent Lott, the CURRENT Senate Republican leader and member of the leadership of the “Council of Concerned Citizens”, basically the Klan with a new name and no hoods, I presume? Or how about DeLay and Armey on the other side of the building - are they people you can be proud of?

True, party leaders get elected by the membership. Point taken. Yes, there are still many things to be ashamed about in any sector of politics big enough to have any power. I join you in deploring that. But you still have to ask yourself which party and candidates best represent the way you want the country to be. Look at who’s in charge today, and what they stand for today based on their actions and not their words, and it’s not too tough a call for me. Maybe it isn’t for you either.

I believe the real question is not whether Byrd ever was a member of the KKK, but what has he done since? What is Byrd’s aggregate record on civil rights issues? What is his aggregate record on the relevant issues? I personally don’t know, but that would be the relevant data

Astorian, your assault on Byrd, who I have no feelings for either way in fact, looks like empty partisanship. Here’s what’s relevant. When Byrd was voted in, was he a klansman or a fellow traveller? What was his record on civil rights to that date. Was this a long buried past mistake, redeemed by subsequent work or was it a current error dissimulated by leaving the clan but staying with segregationist and anti-civil rights movements? If the former, your insult is both unworthy and deceptive. If the later, then you have a point.

It’s too bad Byrd isn’t a Republican. He’d be prime presidential material!

As to when he said ‘nigger’, I believe that it was aboiut a week ago, and he used it talking about ‘white niggers’ as in ‘there are white niggers’ (that’s a paraphrase). His apology for it was, basically, (once again, paraphrasing) ‘I’m old, and that’s how we used to say things when I was young.’ Still an ugly, embarrassing statement made by a man that is well past his prime, and should, like Strom Thurmond, have been forced out into the pasture by his party YEARS ago.

No, that misses the point. Ashcroft’s record regarding the appointment of black judges, as I recall reading during all the turmoil, was strong–he voted for a majority he had an opportunity to. But his record notwithstanding, he was pilloried as an example of closed-minded bigotry because of behavior quite oustide the scope of his public duties–his religious views, for example.

Astorian’s point, I think, is that it seems hypocritical for the Democrats to assault anyone on the basis of their “closed minded bigotry” when they VOTED for an example like Byrd–former KKK member, still uses the word “nigger” (in ANY context). If his “spotless” record is relevant, what, exactly, in Ashcroft’s record gave them pause (i.e., what in the actual execution of his duties–NOT his personal beliefs)?

And if you’re really looking for “what he’s done since the KKK,” I’d say arguing for segregation in the 70’s (as Asorian noted) is a good indicator of how much he’s changed.

BTW, I’m not a big Ashcroft fan. But this is hypocritical.

I rather disagree:

I don’t recall that he had a strong record on the issue nor civil rights. Perhaps we could have some clarification as my recollection runs to the contrary – that being the context of my original posting.

Again, I rather had the impression that it was his record that was the issue:

I believe this is something of a gross mischarecterization of the issue, I think the question was the degree to which he would allow certain religious-political views to color his enforcement of the law of the land – which rather goes to the heart of his public duties.

Insofar as my understanding of Ashcroft record differs from yours, I disagree. Now if the facts are different, and they may well be, I see his point. Certainly where Byrd stood on civil rights in the decade before his election or better selection as majority leader are very relevant.

In any case, taking the OPs assertions on face value re Byrd (who I can’t say means much to me other than re what I have read about him as the king of pork, hardly endearing to be brank), perhaps as peculiar may be that I don’t recall any opposition raising the issue. Of course Congressional leadership positions are not subject to confirmation hearings, which rather changes the rules of the game.

(I remain unimpressed by the OP in any case, insofa such things as the gratitious and unfounded, as far as I have ever read, insults against Thurgood Marshall, for example, do not elevate his credibility on the assertions to date.)

Let me retrack the assertions statement, as I in retrospect I am not actually questioning the basic facts in re Byrd and his racism.

L1ves has already eloquently stated the way a lot of progressive Democrats feel about the party’s past: we simply aren’t going to opt out of politics because some bigots belonged to the more progressive of the two big parties several decades ago. The GOP’s Reconstruction past didn’t keep David Duke from signing up. So you think Byrd is moronic, just as you think Thurgood Marshall is stupid - big surprise.

The notable thing here is the overwhelmingly partisan nature of your critique. It couldn’t logically have an ideological nature - liberals aren’t responsible for Robert Byrd’s success in politics. The Democratic party has had powerful conservative elements for most of its history. Most of these conservative elements have changed parties in recent years, but not all have. So you make hay out of one old Boll Weevil remaining in the Democratic party.

How, exactly, would you like us to “deal with it”? By taking responsibility for some Senators’ failure, 24 years ago, to take responsibility for one Senator’s poor choice of social activities 55 years ago?

Just a couple of added points:

I don’t recall Byrd having anything much to do with race-relations issues either way during his Senate career. If he has, it’s been subtly and privately. Rather, he’s best known for his performance in bringing Federal money into West Virginia - that’s either breathtakingly shameless or extremely effective, depending on where you live. Oh, and he’s also known for the Beltway media fawning over him as the “conscience of the Senate”, whatever that means.

The term Byrd is reported to have used was indeed the common term not long ago for what are now called “trailer trash” or the earlier “white trash”. The reference is primarily to laziness and stupidity, not race, and there certainly are people these terms can be applied to. It would be interesting to know the context Byrd used them in, though.

As for Ashcroft, I agree it was overreaching to impute racism to him for the contemptible way he treated Judge White. But, I didn’t seem to hear that one being expressed as the main reason for opposing him. The White situation one seems to go back to some earlier sword-crossing over an issue Ashcroft DOES deserve criticism for, namely abortion. Don’t forget that he is literally religiously opposed to laws he has taken an oath before God to uphold - how he’s resolved that conflict internally is intriguing.

Boris, your refusal to face reality is astonishing.

You act as if Robert Byrd’s high standing in the Senate had nothing tp do with the rest of the Democratic party. On the contrary! He OWED his position as Majority Leader to the 26+ Senate Democrats who CHOSE him for that position!

26+ is NOT a small number of Senators. You cannot maintain that a few conservative boll weevil Southerners gave him the job. CLEARLY, he was the choice of MOST Senate Democrats. MOST Senate Democrats voted for a former Klansman and a die-hard segregationist.

Of course, it’s no surprise that Democrats are easily forgiven for racism. Did even ONE of the obituaries for J. WIlliam Fulbright mention that he was the most virulent bigot in Congress? Of course not! He was reliably liberal on all non-racial issues, so his racism was tolerated with a wink.

Now, I’ll concede one SMALL point: the world has changed trmendously in the last 50 years, and MOST politicians of a certain age probably said or believed things that now seem ridiculously outdated. (Think how many people laughed at the “bra burners” thirty years ago… anybody laughing at the concept of women doctors, lawyers or Senators now?). Nobody is saying a man has to be condemned for stupid or even repulsive things he said LONG ago, before he knew any better.

Fact remains, Robert Byrd and J. William Fulbright’s racism was NOT confined to their youth. Fulbright remained a bigot and segregationist to the end of his term in the Senate, and Byrd remained a segregationist long after the likes of George Wallace had turned over a new leaf.

So, the question is: why were the same Democrats who were so ready to accuse Robert Bork and John Ashcroft of bigotry so ready to make a REAL bigot the most powerful man in Congress?

I might point out that, while David Duke has run for office as a Republican (and Lyndon LaRouche runs for office all the time as a Democrat- NOTHING stops ANYBODY from seeking ANY party’s nomination), you will search in vain for ANY prominent Republican who endorsed David Duke for any office. Duke is anathema within the Republican leadership. Robert Byrd’s key, leadership positions in the Senate show that he is NOT anathema to leading Democrats. They LOVE the guy.

The more I read about Byrd, the less impressed I am. However, Astorian’s needless partisan nastiness leads me to make some comments:

Strikes me Boris has been very forthright and reasonable in “facing reality” whereas your posts seem to be petty, nasty partisanship.

And the silence of Republicans on the race issue I suppose? What does one say about Jesse Helms leading the Senate For Rel committee, a nasty little bigoted weasel? Or Trent Lott, Delay et al.s much clearer prejudices and your silence so far about this? Should I get down on “Republicans” for that? Senate power politics I am sure. Unhappy I am, but I still don’t see the relevance to Ashcroft per se as there’s really two different questions:
(a) power in the senate or house – degree to which members gain or lose power regardless of their beliefs. Resting perhaps on the idea of once elected, one is a member…
(b) review in confirmation hearings, another issue entirely.

So, you’re confounding two different processes. Properly speaking compare elected leadership positions to elected leadership positions, confirmation hearings to confirmation hearings. There at least you have the same rules of the game.

Politics, bedfellows. This sort of thing is depressing. Now, what do you say about the Republican party going back on a proud history and welcoming the racists, by hook or by crook, in order to win the South?

I’m all for a balanced airing of the bedlinens, and my personal opinion is both parties have quite a bit of hypocrisy round the race issue-- but then that is America ain’t it. However, your exercise here seems to be petty, rather mindless partisanship. Frankly I don’t like it coming from any direction.

Unless his religious views had some real impact on the execution of his duties as a Senator, something that showed he was derelict in his duties, than it’s not a mischaracterization–unless I’m misunderstanding your point. I wasn’t suggesting that this wasn’t a valid line of questioning by Democrats. I was, however, responding to your comment:

Astorian’s point, I thought, was not specifically that the tactic used by the Democrats in assessing Ashcroft was inappropriate. The point was that they did not employ the same standard in the assessment and election of their own leadership. If Byrd’s actual record–even if we limit it to his “recent” record–is the only thing that can assign any legitimacy to OP (that’s how I read your comment above), then the same would apply to Ashcroft, I would think. Supposition that his religious beliefs would prevent him from carrying out his duties–whether or not you agree with this notion–is not the same as pointing to a specific blemish on his record where that was the case. That’s what I saw as analogous to your comments regarding Byrd’s record.

You might find the rhetoric of the OP inflammatory–I didn’t enjoy the Marshall comments myself–and there may be no lack of examples of Republican dirty linen, but that doesn’t mean the central point of the OP is invalid. And, BTW, lest this be interpreted as partisan, I’m a registered Democrat (though, admittedly, I feel no strong allegiance to either party). If I’ve misinterpreted your point, let me know.

astorian wrote,

Well, I don’t know how I gave that impression. I was trying to make the case Byrd’s high standing in the party had nothing to do with liberals of the 80s, 90s, and the 21st Century. Sure it had plenty to do with the Senate Democratic Caucus of the 70s. If I denied that somewhere, I’ll take it back if you can find the quote.

Okay, I’ll maintain that a lot of conservative boll weevils from Southern and border states gave him his job. The 11 former Confederate states probably sent about 20 Democrats to the Senate in the mid-70s, and as a group I’m sure they bore no resemblance to my political views. I don’t think it would be particularly difficult to find half a dozen fellow-travelling conservatives from other states.

In any case, racism among Southern Democrats embarasses me vastly more as an American than it does as a Democrat. I’m sure you’d love it if the Democrats who criticized Ashcroft most vociferously would just walk out of the party because Byrd isn’t dead yet, just as my party would benefit if all the Rush Limbaugh / Jesse Helms / Pat Robertson fans followed Buchanan out of the party.

Would you like it if I said, “Gosh it’s a shame that a West Virginian in his 20s allowed his bigotry and ignorance to lead him into the KKK”? Well I said that about Robert Byrd in a conversation much like this one 13 or 14 years ago. Or how about, “Gosh it’s a shame that politics makes strange bedfellows, forcing us into weird alliances with people we’d rather not associate with”? I say that about once a day.

The worst part about it is he’s a pretty damned good historian, too, from what I understand. According to purely informal sources, most of the rather nice historical writing at http://www.senate.gov goes across his desk (I refuse to believe he uses a desktop) before it is published.

Yes, and a respected parliamentarian, too. But Byrd is also a legendary pork-barrel spender who shamelessly plundered the Treasury to get every possible project for his fellow West Virginians–at a time of a mushrooming federal debt and when this nation most needed senatorial qualities in its leadership.

I am completely non-partisan–I loathe Helms, too–but Byrd is a disgrace. And a hero in West Virginia, of course.

(BTW, my question, as journalist, to Byrd after his “white nier" statement would have been: "And so I take it you also believe there are black niers?”)

The silence from Democrats over Byrd’s remark is quite deliberate, I’m sure. It’s bad enough that Clinton had to draw attention away from our new President with his ill-advised pardon escapades. They want the public scrutiny focused on Bush, so that nothing can slip under the public radar.

That is exactly why Byrd’s remark was so utterly stupid. If he didn’t realize that the remark would be taken derisively, and that most people would consider it very inappropriate, he is hopelessly out of touch. The Democrats don’t need the bad press right now.

I suspect that the Republicans haven’t commented on Byrd’s remark because there is no need for the Politics of Personal Destruction at the moment. Also, they don’t want to throw the door open for allegations of racism, lest there be some confusion regarding the color of pot and kettle.

Dr. J