Monday, July 07, 2008

Jesse Helms: "senile racist buffoon"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Generally, I'm with Capt. Fogg -- but let me add a few things:

1) Now that he's done being waterboarded (i.e., tortured), Christopher Hitchens is back to being alternately inane (e.g., when he writes about Iraq) and edifying-perceptive-funny (e.g., when he writes about pretty much anything else), and his "Farewell to a Provincial Redneck," which includes the quoted part of the title of this post, is right on the mark: "The way to mark Helms' passing is to recognize that he prolonged the life of the old segregated South and the Dixiecrat ascendancy and that in his own person, not unlike Strom Thurmond, he personified much of its absurdity and redundancy."

2) Jonathan Chait, quoting Obsidian Wings, is right on the mark, too: "Hilzoy has a lot of detail about Helms' "particular vision" of civil rights. Among other things, Helms was an avowed believer in black intellectual inferiority, an hysterical opponent of interracial marriage, called the 1964 Civil Rights Act 'the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress,' and said of civil rights demonstrators, '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.' Helm's 'vision' of civil rights for African-Americans was that there should be none."

(Update 1: Chait's TNR colleague Issac Chotiner looks at the right's racism-excusing love-in with Helms.)

(Update 2: For more, see Steve Benen's response to the National Review's love-in: "Helms' legacy is one of hate, segregation, and white supremacy. His name should be an embarrassment to the conservative movement that looks to him as a leader." It should be, but it isn't. Which says a lot about the conservative movement and its policies, positions, and priorities.)

3) Even the oft-seemingly-senile David Broder gets it. WaPo has reposted his 2001 piece, "Jesse Helms, White Racist": "What is unique about Helms -- and from my viewpoint, unforgivable -- is his willingness to pick at the scab of the great wound of American history, the legacy of slavery and segregation, and to inflame racial resentment against African Americans."

I wouldn't call that "unique" (there have been many others who have done the same, just as there are many who do so now), and Broder is far too soft on Helms (who didn't just "pick at the scab" but actually kept wounding the body politic), but there's something to be said for calling a racist a racist.

And Jesse Helms was, among many other reprehensible things, a racist.

And worse.

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