from guest contributor hilzoy at Obsidian Wings. Crossposted with permission.
I haven’t written anything about Jesse Helms’ death, since I don’t like speaking ill of the dead. However: every so often, conservatives wonder: why oh why do people think that the Republican party, and/or the conservative movement, is bigoted? I think that the conservative response to Helms’ death ought to settle that debate once and for all.
[UPDATE: I'm talking about about the Republican Party as an institution, not its individual members. Of course there are bigots and non-bigots in both parties. Ditto "the conservative movement": I meant to refer to it as an organized force, not to all its members. Sorry not to have said this more clearly. END UPDATE.]
More below the fold. Note that I have largely restricted myself to conservatives’ own words (and not random bloggers, but people and magazines with some standing in conservative circles), and to Helms’ words and actions.
For my part, I’ll just echo Matt:
“Conservatives are taking a line that I might have regarded as an unfair smear just a week ago, and saying that Helms is a brilliant exemplar of the American conservative movement.And if that’s what the Heritage Foundation and National Review and the other key pillars of American conservatism want me to believe, then I’m happy to believe it. But it reflects just absolutely horribly on them and their movement that this is how they want to be seen — as best exemplified by bigotry, lunatic notions about foreign policy, and tobacco subsidies.”
“Some of my conservative friends often complain about the difficulty of constructing a “usable history” out of the movement’s recent past, and I sympathize with their plight. When leading exemplars of your political tradition were trying to preserve segregation less than four decades ago, it’s a bit hard to argue that your party, which is now electorally based in the American South, is really rooted in a cautious empiricism and an acute concern for the deadweight losses associated with taxation. That project would really benefit, however, if more of them would step forward and say that Helms marred the history of their movement and left decent people ashamed to call themselves conservative. The attempt to subsume his primary political legacy beneath a lot of pabulum about “limited government and individual liberty” (which did not apparently include the liberty of blacks to work amongst whites or mingle with other races) is embarrassing. But if it goes unchallenged, what are those of us outside the conservative movement to think?”
Some conservative reactions:
George W. Bush:
“Throughout his long public career, Senator Jesse Helms was a tireless advocate for the people of North Carolina, a stalwart defender of limited government and free enterprise, a fearless defender of a culture of life, and an unwavering champion of those struggling for liberty. Under his leadership, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was a powerful force for freedom. And today, from Central America to Central Europe and beyond, people remember: in the dark days when the forces of tyranny seemed on the rise, Jesse Helms took their side.Jesse Helms was a kind, decent, and humble man and a passionate defender of what he called “the Miracle of America.” So it is fitting that this great patriot left us on the Fourth of July. He was once asked if he had any ambitions beyond the United States Senate. He replied: “The only thing I am running for is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Today, Jesse Helms has finished the race, and we pray he finds comfort in the arms of the loving God he strove to serve throughout his life.”
“At this time, let us remember a life dedicated to serving this nation.”
“Today we lost a Senator whose stature in Congress had few equals. Senator Jesse Helms was a leading voice and courageous champion for the many causes he believed in.”
“He was one of the giants of the ’80s and ’90s in the United States Senate”
“He was a conservative icon,” Bob Dole, the former senator and Republican presidential candidate, said in an interview on CNN. “He was a good, decent human being.”
“Death of a Conservative Great [Mark R. Levin]I wish the Helms family peace, and I thank Jesse Helms for helping to ensure the election of Ronald Reagan, being a warrior against the Soviet Union and for the release of Soviet Jews and other abused minorities, and being a voice for millions of unborn babies.
I have noticed some of the smears lobbed at William Buckley in other places since his death; Jesse Helms is in for even more of it. Other prominent conservatives will face the same. Unfortunately, such is the nature of these things now.”
The Weekly Standard reposted this article in response to Helms’ death:
“Reagan, as candidate and president, was conservatism with a happy face. Helms is conservatism with a stiffened spine. Reagan’s success as a conservative leader, however, wouldn’t have happened without Helms’s bracing him. The Republican party needs another duo like that. What’s missing, obviously, is a new Reagan. Helms is still here, operating at full tilt.”
“Jesse Helms, U.S. Senator and Conservative Champion, DiesConservative Sen. Jesse Helms, 86, a truly great American and champion of freedom, died at 1:15 a.m. today. Helms, who gave our country three decades of service as a U.S. senator from North Carolina, was ill in recent years.
Heritage President Ed Feulner (pictured at right with Helms and his wife Dorothy) presented Helms in 2002 with the Clare Boothe Luce Award, Heritage’s highest honor, calling him a “dedicated, unflinching and articulate advocate of conservative policy and principle.””
“If Ronald Reagan was the sunny and optimistic face of modern conservatism, the uncompromisingly defiant exemplar of it was Jesse Helms, who died yesterday at age 86.”
The American Conservative’s blog cites, without comment, someone saying:
“On Capitol Hill, conservatives had no finer champion than Jesse Helms, the longtime Republican senator from North Carolina.”
“Yet the “racism” of which Helms is accused turns out on inspection to consist of nothing more than an opposition to quotas and other forms of racial preferences.”
Commentary’s blogger adds:
“His controversial political career has been chronicled in numerous obituaries, but few recall the severity of the demonization to which Helms was subjected by many liberals–who accused him of being a one-man “pantheon of evil.””
See below to judge Helms’ racism, and whether he was just a “controversial figure” who was “demonized” by the left. The quotes below might also provide some useful background for judging this, from The Corner:
“The first sentence of the NYT obit:
Jesse Helms, the former North Carolina Senator whose courtly manner and mossy drawl barely masked a hard-edged conservatism that opposed civil rights, gay rights, foreign aid and modern art, died early Friday.
He “opposed civil rights”? Uh, no. He opposed a particular vision of them.”
And, of course, RedState:
“He was a warrior and a patriot. The date of his death is fitting indeed.”
Here are quotes by Jesse Helms himself. As you read them, bear in mind all those lovely quotes above, the ones about how he’s a conservative champion, a fighter for conservative ideals, etc. They said it, not me. Like Matt Yglesias, I would have thought it was a completely unjust smear against conservatism to have said any such thing. [UPDATE: To be clear, what I would have thought was unfair was not to take him as a part of the conservative movement, but to think of him as an exemplary figure or a champion. END UPDATE.]
“Just days after Mr. Helms, a Republican from North Carolina, created a furor by saying that President Clinton was not up to the job of Commander in Chief, he told The News and Observer, a newspaper in Raleigh: “Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He’d better have a bodyguard.”"
“From the beginning, Helms was schooled in the political device of using race to propel white conservatives to the polls. As news director for WRAL radio, Helms supported Willis Smith in his 1950 Senate campaign against Frank Porter Graham, the former president of the University of North Carolina. The campaign theme was that Graham favored interracial marriages. “White people, wake up before it is too late,” said one ad. “Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and your daughters, in your mills and factories? Frank Graham favors mingling of the races.”The campaign’s further contribution to political notoriety was a handbill that showed Graham’s wife dancing with a black man. (…)
But before long, Helms found his real calling as a nightly television commentator for WRAL in North Carolina, a post he held from 1960 to 1972. He blasted the “pinkos” and “Yankees” in Washington, and criticized King’s inner circle of civil rights leaders for “proven records of communism, socialism and sex perversion.” He railed against Social Security, calling it “nothing more than doles and handouts.” (…)
In the 1972 race, pitted against a Democratic congressman from Durham, Helms used code words that enraged liberals. The congressman’s name was Nick Galifianakis. Helms’ slogan: “Elect Jesse Helms — He’s One of Us.”"
“Helms warned that, “Crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are a fact of life which must be faced.”He suggested that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a communist dupe and refused, even decades after King’s death, to honor the Nobel Peace Prize winner.
He dismissed the civil rights movement as a cabal of communists and “moral degenerates.”
As the movement gathered strength — and as murderous violence against activists in particular and African-Americans in general increased — Helms menacingly suggested to non-violent civil rights activists that, “The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that’s thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men’s rights.”"
A personal favorite, worth remembering when you read things about how courteous Helms was in person:
“When Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois became the first African-American woman to sit in the Senate, Helms followed Moseley-Braun into an elevator, announcing to Utah Senator Orrin Hatch: “Watch me make her cry. I’m going to make her cry. I’m going to sing ‘Dixie’ until she cries.”Then, emphasizing the lines about how “good” things were before the Civil War ended slavery, Helms sang “Dixie.”"
“His disdain for people of color (exemplified by his “humorous” habit, in private, of referring to any black person as “Fred”) continues to find ways of expressing itself. He is the Senate’s most reliable opponent of any measure aimed at securing the rights or improving the conditions of African-Americans. In 1994, when Nelson Mandela visited the Capitol, Helms ostentatiously turned his back on him.”
Humorous? Referring to any black person as “Fred”??
And (Helms himself, h/t Majikthise):
“No intelligent Negro citizen should be insulted by a reference to this very plain fact of life. It is time to face honestly and sincerely the purely scientific statistical evidence of natural racial distinction in group intellect. … There is no bigotry either implicit or intended in such a realistic confrontation with the facts of life. … Those who would undertake to solve the problem by merely spending more money, and by massive forced integration, may be doing the greatest injustice of all to the Negro.”
“Crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are a fact of life which must be faced.”
“To rob the Negro of his reputation of thinking through a problem in his own fashion is about the same as trying to pretend that he doesn’t have a natural instinct for rhythm and for singing and dancing.”
“”Martin Luther King repeatedly refers to his ‘non-violent movement.’ It is about as non-violent as the Marines landing on Iwo Jima.”"
“I was a senior when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Roughly 2,000 of us joined a vigil on the quad for several days. (…) Jesse Helms came on the television and said that all of the students sitting on the quad at Duke should ask their parents if it would be all right for their son or daughter to “marry a Negro” (Duke students were practically all white in those days). Unless the student’s parents approved of that prospect, Helms advised, he or she should go back to class.”
“As a television commentator before running for the Senate, Helms said, “Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s outfit … is heavily laden at the top with leaders of proven records of communism, socialism and sex perversion, as well as other curious behavior.” He called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress.”"
Later, his views had not changed. (This is a transcription of a video; it doesn’t say when the interview it shows is from, but I’d guess the late 80s or 90s, from his appearance. It’s the video linked under Martin Luther King.)
“I thought it [the Civil Rights Act] was very unwise. It was taking liberties away from one group of citizens and giving them to another. I thought it was bad legislation then, and I have had nothing to change my mind about it.”
Helms also “staged a filibuster against the establishment of a national holiday to mark the birthday of Martin Luther King, having called King a communist and a sex pervert”, and “was one of a small number of senators who opposed extending the Voting Rights Act in 1982, eventually giving up a filibuster when then-Majority Leader Sen. Howard Baker, a Tennessee Republican, said the Senate would not take up any other business until it acted on the extension.”
“Appearing on “Larry King Live” in 1995, Jesse Helms, then the senior senator from North Carolina, fielded a call from an unusual admirer. Helms deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, the caller gushed, “for everything you’ve done to help keep down the niggers.” Given the rank ugliness of the sentiment — the guest host, Robert Novak, called it, with considerable understatement, “politically incorrect” — Helms could only pause before responding. But the hesitation couldn’t suppress his gut instincts. “Whoops, well, thank you, I think,” he said.”
One of his home state papers sums it up:
“Helms was an unceasing foe of the 20th century’s social movements — the drives for equality by blacks, women and gays. While others saw groups striving for a piece of the American dream, Helms saw threats to the social fabric.Along with former gubernatorial candidate I. Beverly Lake Sr., Helms was a leading voice for segregation in North Carolina. Unlike other well-known segregationists, such as Alabama Gov. George Wallace and Thurmond, Helms never repudiated his views or reached out to black voters.
He portrayed the civil rights movement as being planned in Moscow, dismissed Martin Luther King Jr. as a Marxist and a pervert, and called racial integration a phony issue.”
“He fought bitterly against federal financing for AIDS research and treatment, saying the disease resulted from “unnatural” and “disgusting” homosexual behavior.“Nothing positive happened to Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said, “and nothing positive is likely to happen to America if our people succumb to the drumbeats of support for the homosexual lifestyle.””
“Helms practically invented the modern conservative politics of sexuality, along with the electoral mobilization of white conservative evangelicals, starting back in the 1970s. In 1977, he seized on Anita Bryant’s successful campaign to overturn a gay rights ordinance in Miami and began building a national backlash against antidiscrimination laws. As early as 1979, he was making speeches about the terrible threat of “secular humanism” to Christianity, making the wonky Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies an unlikely villain. When the AIDS epidemic emerged in the 1980s, Helms began an extended and violently worded campaign to “protect” Americans from the “perverts” whose “disgusting” habits were responsible for AIDS, while attacking efforts to find effective treatments. (…)But other aspects of Helms’s personality cannot be ignored, particularly his venomous assault on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and his virulent hatred of gays and lesbians. For years, as part of his campaign against the NEA, this “courtly” Christian carried around portfolios of homoerotic Mapplethorpe photos and showed them to reporters and (male) citizens with the question, “How do you like them apples?” And as late as 1995, when an old friend wrote him to recommend compassion for people like her gay son, who had died of AIDS, Helms wrote back to say, “I wish he had not played Russian roulette with his sexual activities.”"
“1993: On the nomination of a gay rights activist to a federal post: “She’s not your garden-variety lesbian. She’s a militant-activist-mean lesbian, working her whole career to advance the homosexual agenda. Now you think I’m going to sit still and let her be confirmed by the Senate? … If you want to call me a bigot, go ahead.””
“As a senator, he explained that he voted against Roberta Achtenberg, President Clinton’s nominee for a Housing and Urban Development position, “because she’s a damn lesbian.” When Helms encountered protesters during a visit to Mexico in 1986, he remarked: “All Latins are volatile people. Hence, I was not surprised at the volatile reaction.” In 1990, Helms stayed away in protest when Nelson Mandela addressed a joint session of Congress.”
“The Bible is unmistakably instructive on the sin of sodomy,” he declared in 1994. “I confess I regard it as an abomination.” Aids, he suggested, was acquired through “deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct” and he became an ardent opponent of government funding for Aids research and education. In 1987 he described Aids prevention literature as “so obscene, so revolting, I may throw up.”
In his own words:
“The government should spend less money on people with AIDS because they got sick as a result of deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct.”
“Over the years Helms has declared homosexuality “degenerate,” and homosexuals “weak, morally sick wretches.” (Newsweek, 12/5/94) In a tirade highlighting his routine opposition to AIDS research funding, Helms lashed out at the Kennedy-Hatch AIDS bill in 1988: “There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy.” (States News Service, 5/17/88)”
(Take that, Ryan White!)
On foreign affairs, he was an almost wholly malign force:
“His obstinacy in foreign policy, where pragmatism often guides debate, was remarkable. Few administrations escaped his wrath. He condemned President Nixon’s historic 1972 trip to Beijing as “appeasing Red China.” He castigated President Carter, saying he “gave away the Panama Canal.” And after the newly elected President Clinton proposed that gays be allowed to serve openly in the military, Helms said that Clinton “better have a bodyguard” if he visited North Carolina. (…)Because of Helms, several major treaties never became law: The Kyoto Protocol against global warming, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the proposed land mine treaty — all were stopped at his insistence.”
He also had a thing about governments with death squads, and the appallingly brutal South African-funded guerilla groups in Angola and Mozambique. He supported the apartheid regime in South Africa.
And here’s a random quote from 1966 (cited in the Boston Globe, 11/21/1994), just because I like it:
“The nation has been hypnotized by the swaying and the gesturing of the Watusi and the Frug.”