As a young man, Robert Byrd impressed a venerable elder official so much he felt compelled to comment: "The country needs young men like you in the leadership of the nation." Byrd took the message to heart and today, he's the senior senator from West Virginia.
Of course, the inspiration becomes less Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-esque when you find out the man doling out the compliment was Joel Baskin: Mid-Atlantic Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. So what did Byrd do to impress him so much? Something unrelated, right? We understand you can't control the nature of your admirers, just look at the comments: Most of our fans are borderline-sociopaths.
Wrong! He organized 150 people to form their own chapter of the KKK, even instituting the brilliant idea to charge them $3 for the robe and hood.
We're practically giving these stylish new klan hoods away!
For his ability to coordinate the uniforms, something that's pretty run of the mill when it comes to volunteer Little League coaches, but apparently unheard of in the Klan, his newly founded chapter elected him "Exalted Cyclops." Which is like, the Klan's second coolest rank next to "Sacred Wolverine."
During his 1952 bid for the House of Representatives, his opponents revealed the former ties to the KKK, which Byrd reluctantly acknowledged, explaining that he only belonged to the Klan from "mid-1942 to early 1943" and he only joined in the first place "because it offered excitement and was strongly opposed to communism." In other words, Byrd didn't think it was that big of a deal, because he only wanted to hang black people for like, eight months tops. And really, the Klan is less like a sinister hate group and more like a white trash G.I. Joe, anyway.
When Byrd's opponent uncovered a letter Byrd had handwritten to the KKK Imperial Wizard (the Klan's corporate infrastructure was designed by a team of 13 year old fantasy fiction geeks for whatever reason) recommending a friend and urging promotion of the Klan throughout the country, dated 1946--well after when Byrd claimed he had left the Klan behind for good--Byrd's fellow Democrats pressured him to drop out of the race.
Voters' (Ill-Advised) Response:
Byrd won the election and went on to serve six years in the House before winning his Senate seat in 1958. Today he's the longest serving Senator in U.S. History.
Heading into the 90s, Marion Barry, the three-term mayor of Washington, D.C., was looking towards a new decade of progress and success, riding high on a wave of political popularity.
Also, crack cocaine. Just... just a whole entire wave of crack cocaine.
Barry and his ex-girlfriend were arrested in a joint operation by the FBI and DC Police while smoking crack in a local hotel room. Displaying the quick-wit that helped him charm voters, Barry found the only way to make getting caught smoking crack in a run-down hotel worse, when he muttered "bitch set me up" in response. Footage of the arrest (and quote) was widely shown on television, and Berry was convicted and sentenced to a six-month prison term.
Fortunately, this event predated the Internet meme.
Voters' (Ill-Advised) Response:
After being released from prison, Barry ran for a seat on the city council under the laughably inappropriate slogan "He May Not Be Perfect, But He's Perfect for D.C."
Either voters' long-term memory was so shoddy that they completely missed the implied dig at their hometown ("Ladies and Gentlemen, I may be a crackhead, but what better man to lead Crackville?!") or the earnest slogan simple mobilized the notoriously active tweeker demographic, because he won easily.
Not a good thing.
Barry would again run into problems with the law when it was revealed that he failed to file tax returns... for nine of the last 10 years. And failed the mandatory drug testing during the hearing. And was arrested and charged with stalking Donna Watts-Brighthaupt in 2009.
Jesus, Barry! You know, this raises an interesting conundrum: Maybe D.C.'s reputation as a drug-plagued criminal wonderland is undeserved; at this point, it is not unreasonable to assume that all that crack and every single crime committed in the name of it is Marion Berry out there in the back-alleys somewhere, just being an overachiever.
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