“He once had a fleeting association with the Ku Klux Klan, what does that mean? I’ll tell you what it means. He was a country boy from the hills and hollows from West Virginia. He was trying to get elected.”
—Former President Bill Clinton speaking fondly—and dishonestly— of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV).
Bill Clinton has never had much understanding of the principle of integrity. To him, wanting to get elected is justification enough for joining a violently racist organization that you don’t believe in, and giving support to a movement that you find offensive is a reasonable moral compromise to make in the pursuit of power. But how do we know that Sen. Byrd didn’t reject the Klan when the group’s cross burnings and lynchings became unfashionable in order to stay elected, while secretly sympathizing with them? Well, we don’t—and the facts support this interpretation more than Clinton’s.
What Clinton call’s a “fleeting association” with the KKK included Byrd not only organizing a 150 member Klavern ( a local Klan group) but serving as its leader. Rather than joining the Klan in an effort to enter politics, Byrd was persuaded to run for office by a Grand Dragon of the Klan after Byrd was a member in good standing.
Clinton went on to say that Byrd spent the “rest of his life” working to live down his youthful mistake. This is also a bit of Clintonian revisionism. Byrd wrote a letter to the Klan’s Imperial Wizard in 1946, three years after the date he swore to voters that he had left the Klan, that said,“The Klan is needed today as never before,” he wrote. Another letter by Byrd that was uncovered five years ago, written in 1945, stated that he refused to serve in the armed forces “with a Negro by my side” and didn’t want to see “this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels.”
Almost 20 years after writing those sentiments, in 1964, Byrd fought to defeat the Civil Rights Act by filibuster, speaking continuously for 14 hours. Then, according to Clinton, while he was still trying to “make up” for his Klan membership, he opposed the 1965 Voting Rights Act as well as its renewal in 1970. Byrd became the only U.S. Senator who voted against the confirmation of both Thurgood Marshall, a far Left liberal, and Clarence Thomas, a far Right conservative. Never mind: Bill Clinton assures us that these votes, all during Byrd’s post-Klan period, has nothing to do with the color of their skin.
If you believe that Robert Byrd wasn’t a genuine Klan supporter, you’ll believe that Bill Clinton can be trusted to tell the whole truth.