Last week, when I was wondering about the implications of Hillary’s West Virginia blowout, I found myself asking what the state’s superdelegates would do. Nick Rahall and Jay Rockefeller had already endorsed Obama, so that left Joe Manchin and Robert Byrd. Well, Manchin will have to endorse Clinton now, I figured, and that’s too bad, but there was never a shot Byrd wouldn’t, anyway. Robert Byrd endorsing Obama? A former KKK kleagle endorsing a black man? The man who filibustered the Civil Rights Act and tried to block Thurgood Marshall’s court appointments, endorsing the son of a Kenyan immigrant? There wasn’t a chance in hell. It’d be like George Gilder endorsing Hillary. It wasn’t going to happen.
And then it did:
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., endorsed Barack Obama for president shortly after noon today, focusing on his hope to end the Iraq War.
“As people all across this great nation know, I have been one of the most outspoken opponents of the Bush administration’s misguided war in Iraq and its saber rattling around the globe,” Byrd said.
He said he had “no intention of involving myself in the Democratic campaign for President in the midst of West Virginia’s primary election. But the stakes this November could not be higher.”
Byrd praised both Obama and Hillary Clinton, saying their “integrity, honor, love for this country and strong belief in our Constitution I deeply respect…
“Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support,” Byrd concluded.
Now, Byrd has changed a lot since the ’60s, no doubt. He has said he regrets his filibuster of the Civil Rights Act, and that the greatest mistake of his life was joining the Klan. But he still has deeply disturbed racial views, including his continued casual usage of the word “nigger”. For him to put those aside, when he had the totally reasonable out of saying he was respecting the wishes of the voters of West Virginia, when Clinton has made it clear that she’s less than fully tolerant of blacks, in order to endorse the better candidate, well, that’s kind of beautiful. We are far from a post-racial society, and if the Clinton campaign’s conduct has made one thing clear it’s that racism is still very much a part of Democratic and national politics, but the Byrd endorsement is a signal of how far we’ve come all the still.