There are no Republicans in Congress with associations with the Ku Klux Klan. But if there were, those Republicans would never receive this kind of defense.
Byrd’s “fleeting association” consisted of the following:
1. Joining the Klan at the age of 24 in 1942.
2. Getting elected the top officer of his local chapter.
3. Being told by a Klan official “[y]ou have a talent for leadership, Bob … The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation.” (I am guessing that “fleeting members” do not get this kind of “praise.”)
4. Upon being told about his talent for leadership in a racist organization with blood on its hands, having the following reaction: “suddenly lights flashed in my mind! Someone important had recognized my abilities! I was only 23 or 24 years old, and the thought of a political career had never really hit me. But strike me that night, it did.”
5. Beginning his political career by holding the titles of “Kleagle” or recruiter for the Klan, and “Exalted Cyclops,” which unfortunately in this context, does not mean “someone who got tricked by Odysseus.”
6. Writing the following in 1944 (while World War II was still raging, and while other people had better ideas–if only because they believed that beating the Axis powers was more important than getting caught up in the throes of dimwitted racial bigotry:
I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.
7. Writing the following a few years later to a “Grand Wizard” (which unfortunately in this context, does not mean “someone who runs Hogwarts”):
The Klan is needed today as never before, and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia and in every state in the nation.
This “fleeting association,” therefore, lasted about 4 or 5 years, and war marked by a pronounced sense of enthusiasm for the Klan on Byrd’s part. To say that Bill Clinton’s comments sought to mislead listeners regarding Robert Byrd’s past would be to put matters mildly. And as mentioned, no Republican would ever receive from Clinton the kind of rhetorical defense he offered up for Byrd.
I try not to speak ill of the dead, but I have no choice in this case; Robert Byrd’s membership in the Klan was appalling, unforgivable, and should be a prominent part of any remembrance. And now, an ill word about the living: Anyone who tries to downplay that association is a liar.