Thoughts on the Late Senator Robert Byrd: A relative of mine wrote in a segment of her blog called “Kudos and Catcalls” of the mixed nature of Senator Robert Byrd. She iterated what was true that Senator Byrd, a man from West Virginia, was, indeed, long ago, a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He was, at one time, a Dixicrat segregationist and thus I have mixed emotions when I eulogize the man as well. The heinous KKK is everything my relative said and for Byrd to have joined it is the abomination she says it is. I am reminded of the Catholic Pope Benedict who has been excused from being a Hitler Youth because the entire social milieu during the Nazi period dictated that he sign-up. Too bad he was not a righteous Gentile.
Too bad Robert Byrd did not morph sooner into what he became AFTER 1965 as he surely morphed into a totally different man. I am reminded, too, of an apologetic George Wallace who said he was absolutely wrong to do what he did opposing integration and spewing his segregation now and segregation forever trash. Later he had a black man as his political right hand man (pardon the pun) to show for it.
The damage ALL of these people have done when they took up the mantle of the extremist racist right cannot be denied or undone. At least, though, in the 2000 votes Senator Byrd cast he voted AGAINST the Iraq War and even came into the Senate in a wheelchair to vote for the health care bill. He in an interview said if he had had it to do over he would have voted FOR the Civil Rights bill. This has to be judged commendable as does his gift for great oratory and his abiding love for our Constitution which he knew verbatim.
I am ALSO reminded of the “to err is human to forgive divine” quote IF the person is truly repentant. Byrd joined the Klan in 1949 a year after I was born. The south was segregated from drinking fountains to restaurants, from schools to voting booths, Jim Crow laws and literacy tests prevailed. We, I think, sometimes forget how difficult it is to change the social order. Even today the sentiment that gave life to slavery and all its attendant evils is still with us as those of us who are politically savvy well know.
It is easy for us to glow in our moral purity but as the Holocaust memorial in Israel of the Righteous Gentiles in Yad Vashem extols and praises those people who were the EXCEPTION to immorality because it truly, then, was the exception and not the rule. When I look deep into my soul am I able to say IF I were gentile in Germany at that time would my name be among those special few. The true answer is I don’t REALLY know. It took exceptional bravery and I am not very brave.
Some orthodox rabbis have said they may not like what the reform Jew does but they HOPE and, indeed, pray the Reform Jew will have a change of heart. They leave room that a person can change and morph into something different and, as they see it, better. On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, all vows are null and void, the slate is wiped clean and we begin anew and TRY to do better.
It is somewhat how I feel about Senator Byrd. He did what he did when he did it so many years ago but the preponderance of his life in the Senate was, I think, an attempt to right that wrong. I ALWAYS like that some rabbis leave room for a person to change his mind and start over. A man, I think, should be judged by the sum total of his life and not by one part no matter how objectionable. After all, who of us is philosophical perfection in all phases of our life? I see Robert Byrd, in the end, as a righteous Gentile who, as his dear friend Teddy Kennedy said of his own brother Robert Kennedy, “… saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.” I will give a kudos to Senator Robert Byrd rather than a catcall.