"Slandering" Jesse Helms
September 5, 2001
Let me say up front, I respect Bob Novak. I even like Bob
Novak. He takes his economics from Jude Wanniski, head of
the "Supply Side University" and the reigning guru on the
economic school of supply-side economics. How I know this
is simple. I studied everything I could from Jude, such as
gold standard theory and Fed behavior. I cross referenced
with a lot of study of the Austrian school (basically 'classical
economics' revivalists who think Keynes should have never
declared classics dead, and they do have their points), and
I learnt a great deal about the political and economic Wanniski/Novak/Jack
I also learnt that their economic theories had a few... flaws.
But never mind that. The point is that I respect Bob because
he actually does "real" journalism. He goes out on the beat
and squeezes sources, rather than get wined and dined and
read White House press releases. So, that counts for something.
However, his article about the "slandering" of Jesse Helms
was a bit over the top. He mentions all the people who are
slandering him. The slanders are mainly through the fringe
liberal media, the dark corners of the Internet where snippets
of uncomfortable truths can be found, and essentially everywhere
but the New York Times and the Washington Post. However, the
mainstream reaction clearly didn't want to rain on the parade.
There was praise for Jesse as an effective petty tyrant, a
man who stood by his beliefs in a steadfast way that practically
no one seems to anymore, and essentially whitewashed his record
as that of a stubborn old man whose day had finally come,
who it would be impolite to say bad things about now that
he's being put out to pasture.
So Novak goes into a long sermon about how Jesse never cared
about race. Only the voters in his state did. (Note the passing
the blame onto the racist voters to absolve Jesse of their
support.) Novak also makes the point that what Jesse REALLY
cared about was national security, and the reason leftists
hate him is because they love commies and Jesse hates commies.
Putting aside the irony of attacking slander by committing
slander, Novak then goes to say how Jesse Helms was constantly
educating the UN (educating?....) on the constitutional form
of government and how he had the right to greatly obstruct
the foreign policy of the United States if he damned well
pleased, because the law said he could, and therefore, all
he was doing was slavishly following the law. (General rule.
Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean you SHOULD.)
Novak's basic problem with what people say about Jesse is
that to him, Jesse was not a master of hate and division,
but a man who cared not one whit about race while in office,
a decent moral man, and, well, he had Southern charm. Why
some people assume that Southern charm doesn't mean that the
person charming you is somehow proof he won't slit your throat
as soon as you turn your back is beyond me. I certainly do
not know many Southerners who are swayed by such charm because
they know it's just pulling their leg. Bob, though, was taken.
My basic problem with the thrust of the column is not that
Jesse didn't have bad things said about him, it's the implication
that they were false.
Take just two examples. The recent e-mail sent around N.
Carolina's legislature that white men who believed in Christ
were chiefly and overwhelmingly responsible for all that is
good about America. When challenged initially, he defended
his sending around the e-mail as OK because "It's the truth".
And the truth is not slander. See? Truth is a defense. This
legislator will evade jail, but not scorn.
In neighboring Virginia, radio ads are depicting the Democratic
ticket there as 'the most liberal in state history', but that's
not the problem. Behold:
The man says of the Democratic candidates, "One of them wants
to legalize gay marriage in Virginia." The woman responds:
"Wait. Gay marriage in Virginia?"
The man continues: "Oh, you haven't heard the worst of it.
Mark Warner opposed welfare reform and the abolition of parole
for violent felons." The ad ends by saying, "This message
brought to you by the other guys, the ones who share your
values . . . the Republican Party of Virginia." end citation.
Republicans are also using the term "Vermont values" as a
code word for "lover of gays, lesbians, and other moral degenerates"
to smear the Democratic candidates. The article goes on to
quote an activist saying (not untruthfully), "Similar tactics
have emerged in campaigns across the nation".
THIS is the legacy of Jesse Helms. All Novak is offering,
because it is clear from the "Willie Horton II" ad, you know,
the one about minorities getting quotas putting white people
out of work, and from a long history of inflammatory direct
mail campaigns to say what Jesse was too smart to say with
his own mouth, is that this appeal to racism and bigotry was
just a deception upon the voters of N. Carolina. See, it's
all a lie: Jesse actually doesn't care about racism at all.
He didn't even use racism from his own lips to get elected.
(Though he did run ads and direct mail campaigns and had foot
soldiers spread the word instead.) He deceived the voters
that he was, in fact, racist, when he was not, so that, once
elected, he could pursue his agenda of brow-beating the president
of the day over America's foreign policy for another six years.
That's just not how I read it. Sure, if you go back far enough,
you can find an awful lot of dirty American elections. In
fact, you don't need to go back far at all: both Republicans
and Democrats are totally convinced each other tried to steal
the last Presidential election, and the sad thing is, it's
possible both are right. However, the post-civil rights era
revival of gay-bashing as a tool to get elected, smearing
opponents by painting them as allies of "THOSE people", whomever
"THEY" are, is a direct copy of Jesse Helms' tactics. Grassroots
Republicans, especially in the South, have come to believe
that dirty politics works. After all, Jesse's main contribution
is to turn negative campaigning from an art into a science,
and to campaign relentlessly negatively, not allowing his
opponent a single ray of light or hope that could turn cynical
voters around to voting for a candidate who represents things
in America other than fighting the Damn Commies.
Negative campaigning. Guilt by association. Party machines
spreading racism by stealth. Are these not methods to get
elected using hate and division?
Of course they are.
Bob's problem is he got fooled by the Southern charm: It
never dawned on him that all those things that he sees, the
being a rock and a hard place on foreign policy, the standing
up for conservative beliefs most steadfastly, the unrelenting
march to keep the US safe from threats to its national security...
these do not exist despite hate and division in American politics.
They exist because of them, and because Jesse is their master.
That is the legacy of Jesse Helms, and that is not slander.
It is the bitter truth.
As the cronies and copiers of Jesse Helms march on to spread
his rot throughout politics on the grounds that "it works",
let us take a moment to find a ray of hope.
The country has moved on. North Carolina has moved on. There
are bigots in society - and there are good people who do bad
things, such as believe in bigotry - who exist, but there
are less of them. In fact, running on the basis of bigotry
often backfires. There is a great irony to this situation,
for Jesse Helms, if nothing else, had enormous stature because
of the constant nature of his views. Those who disagreed him
had to respect him for standing up for his (mistaken) views.
The great irony of the departure of Jesse Helms is that only
Jesse Helms can get elected in North Carolina by being Jesse
Helms. No lesser being could do it. If Jesse Helms was not
Jesse Helms, and ran as Jesse Helms, he would be soundly defeated.
The incumbency system sustained Helms far beyond the era where
his mastery of divisive politics would have won him his seat
Put simply, the people of N. Carolina are better than they
have been given credit for. To absolve Jesse and to blame
N. Carolina's residents for being so bigoted that only a bigoted
campaign can succeed there is to absolve the political system
itself. It does not deserve such a free pass.
Robert Novak, Creators Syndicate
GOP Attacking Democrats on Gays
Craig Timberg, Washington Post Staff Writer, Aug 31, 2001,