Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Jesse Helms, Just a Man of Conviction

The outpouring of Jesse Helms eulogies since his death this weekend has been a sad sight indeed. It is standard practice to gloss over a person's life once they're gone, but occasionally there are people that dictate deviation from the societal norm. Jesse Helms was just such a person.

An unabashed racist, Helms spent his entire career crusading against civil rights, even switching parties once the Democrats proved too receptive to the incendiary demands of equality coming from Martin Luthur King and his contemporaries.

And just like the current Conservative torch bearer, George Bush, conservatives have come out in droves to praise Helms for his conviction. It doesn't seem to matter that his convictions were that of blatant racism and inequality, merely that he had them. We see the same in reference to Bush. Namely, that it doesn't matter so much that his foreign policy is a complete failure because he believes things and continues to believe them in spite of reality, the sign of a real man, to be sure.

Trent Lott said on Fox news "He had a philosophy, had principles he believed in, and he stood and fought for them."

Mike Huckabee
followed with "The thing that many of us loved and admired about Jesse Helms was that, here was a guy, he didn’t care what you thought about his view, but you were going to always know where he stood because he stood for something and he stood clearly."

Again, neither see fit to state exactly what those principles he stood so strongly for were, and it doesn't take much to understand why. Those unwavering principles were on full display in 1950 as Helms supported the Senatorial campaign of Willis Smith:

"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."

Mingling of the races, what horror. Of course, the fellas at National Review would certainly be quick to point out that that was a different time, which of course only strengthens my point. Standing for one's convictions is admirable only when not concurrent with a full frontal assault by reality.

As with many a meme in the political arena, worshiping conviction sounds deeper than it is in practice. Throughout history, there have been many men who stood by deeply held social tenets: Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Hitler, George III just to name a few. Principled? Yes. But the content of those principles matters.

Helms' brand of racism was not merely a product of failing to adhere to PC norms, either. He wasn't merely opposing Affirmative Action or quotas, he was a racist of the most regressive kind. One who, as the ad above shows, thought that not only should minorities not be granted preferences, but that they, as inferior beings, did not belong in integrated society. In that respect, Helms would not have been out of place in the 18th Century, principles, convictions and all.

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