People Can Change

Senator Byrd has endorsed Obama

It can truly feel as though identity politics are tearing the Democratic party apart, especially now.  I’m sure there are a lot of people who agree with me when I say that when we look around the internets and see how identity politics have sparked vitriol filled battles all over the place, it’s easy to feel as though we are masticating ourselves over an aspect of our party and the greater progressive movement that is supposed to promote progress on equality, and put an end to bigotry.

I think we also have a tendency to forget that we’re all of us imperfect people.

At this moment in time we are battling racism and sexism as well as homophobia and bigotry focused on religious grounds.  The greater theme to the Democratic party and the progressive movement is to treat people as people, and not some demographic focus group.

And we fail.  We fail an awful lot, actually.  We misunderstand each other, and we let emotions undermine our better angels.  We lash out when we are attacked, even when we are wrong, and we gloat when we succeed, even when the loser deserves and would be better served with grace and humility.

It can feel as though we are soldiers fighting a hundred wars with a thousand different missions, and millions of other soldiers who are allies in some fights, and mortal enemies in others.

Thus the path towards equality is not smoothly paved.  It is not evenly paved.  And those who walk it often have the battle scars to show for it.

But for an imperfect people, that is what progress must look like.  There is no choice in the matter, moving forward necessitates casualties and loss.  It inflicts deep wounds, wounds that eventually heal and make stronger.

Progress isn’t easy, but for those willing to fight for it, it can be attained.  Maybe not in our lifetime, or even in our children’s lifetime, but there must be some sort of consolation in knowing that, when on you come to your journey’s end, eventually you found the right path.

There is something remarkable about Byrd’s endorsement of Obama that will be lost on few.  A man whose career began and has been marked by his membership of the Ku Klux Klan, and who fought for decades against racial equality, has endorsed someone a black man.  Not just a black man, either, but one of mixed racial heritage.

I suppose Byrd’s endorsement could be a foregone conclusion; most elected Democrats would of course be expected to endorse whomever ultimately became the nominee.  But Byrd’s 91 year long journey runs curiously parallel to that of the American journey as a whole, one from the dark depravity of ignorance and hate, to wisdom, acceptance, and tolerance.

I can’t speak on whether this will ultimately provide redemption for the longest serving member of the Senate.  Ultimately, that is a question to be answered between Byrd and his God; can the actions in the twilight of one’s life truly atone for transgression of earlier years?

I’m too young, too lacking in wisdom to know that answer.  But what I do know is that Senator Byrd has shown that people can change, even if it takes them the better part of a century to affect that change.  I do know that that change is never perfect, and never complete, and terrible damage can be done along the way.

But people can change, and progress can be achieved, and when you reach these milestones, you stop and you remind yourself of what can be accomplished, and then you dig in, and you push some more.

You keep pushing because we’re never perfect, and there is so much more that needs changing.

More at Memeorandum: The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room, Ben Smith’s Blogs, The Swamp, TalkLeft, Macsmind, Page One, Taylor Marsh, 2008 Democratic …, Spin Cycle, The Moderate Voice, Booman Tribune, The Field, baldilocks and Wonkette


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