Monday, July 14, 2008
I have been thinking a great deal about the North Carolinian since his death, and like many conservatives, my thoughts toward him are mixed. He was on the wrong side of the greatest domestic moral challenge of the past half century - and on the right side of the greatest international challenge: a Paul Robeson in reverse. I'm not horrified by his famous "hands" commercial. It is simply a fact that more qualified whites are passed over for employment and other benefits every day on account of racial preferences. Indeed that is the whole point of racial preferences, and it is one of the most offensive indignities of the racial preferences system that we are not supposed to mention that it accomplishes exactly what it is intended to accomplish. On the other hand, this message would have been far more compelling had it come from anyone other than a man perfectly content when racial preferences ran in reverse, as they did in the American South - and not only the South - until the mid-1960s.
The good news about Jesse Helms is that his anticommunism was successful and his racialism was not. He helped save Central America from communism; he did not stop the Martin Luther King day holiday. He did his country much good in foreign affairs and little harm at home.
The verdict is not so positive however on his legacy to his party and his cause. Ronald Reagan helped to broaden the appeal of conservatism and Republicanism; Jesse Helms worked to narrow it. If there were opportunities in the 1980s to build an African-American conservatism, and I think in states like North Carolina there were, Helms was an important part of the reason nothing came of them.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.
07/14 07:47 AM