Democratic Underground

"Slandering" Jesse Helms
September 5, 2001
by JB

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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 Kemp triangle.

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.

That's slander?

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 from scratch.

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.


Slandering Jesse Helms
Robert Novak, Creators Syndicate
Va. GOP Attacking Democrats on Gays
Craig Timberg, Washington Post Staff Writer, Aug 31, 2001, Page B01

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