Sen. Robert Byrd, the longstanding Democrat from West Virginia, cast his 17,000th vote in the chamber last week. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) saw fit to mark the occasion with a rousing tribute in which he proclaimed, "There is no one I admire more. There is no one to whom I listen more closely and carefully when he speaks on any subject matter than Sen. Byrd."
For obvious reasons, Dodd neglected to mention that Byrd is a former Grand Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan. Nor did Dodd dwell on the fact that Byrd voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or that Byrd broadcast his racial insensitivity by using the N-word during a 2001 appearance on Fox News.
Instead, Dodd simply praised the former Klansman from West Virginia as a gifted legislator and a stout defender of the Constitution.
This is somewhat puzzling considering that when Sen. Trent Lott remarked that the country would have been better off if former segregationist Strom Thurmond had won his 1948 bid for presidency, the Democrats demanded his ouster. And rightly so. Lott's racially-insensitive remarks were indicative of his upbringing in "a time and a place" that regarded blacks as inferior. Lott's remarks suggested that he just didn't get it, that he had no ability to truly empathize with what it means to be a minority in this country. The Democrats understood this. Flanked by the Congressional Black Caucus, they pumped their fists at Lott and demanded that he vacate his post.
Yet, they say nothing when one of their own praises a former Klansman. They haven't even asked Dodd to issue an apology. This is an outrage. Some things should not be explained away, like Byrd's affiliation with an organization that has a long history of hanging blacks from trees.
And yet, there is Dodd, on the Senate floor, demanding that Sen. Byrd "would have been a great senator at any moment. He would have been right at the founding of this country. He would have been in the leadership crafting this Constitution. He would have been right during the great conflict of civil war in this Nation. ."
Really? A former Klansman would have been great during the Civil War? Great for whom? I'm not aware of many Klansmen who fought to free the slaves, or to uphold the union or to protect basic rights.
Had a Republican praised a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, the Democrats would have been up in arms. But when one of their own makes racially-insensitive remarks, they avert their eyes. Some things should not be ignored. Some things should not be subject to the whims of partisan politics. When our elected leaders spew racist remarks, they need to be held accountable - regardless of their political affiliation.
It would be nice if the party that demanded Sen. Lott's ouster for praising a former segregationist could be equally outraged when one of their own praises a former Klansman. But I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the Democrats to end their double standard on race.