Monday, July 07, 2008


When Jesse Helms died, Tom quoted John Miller's reaction to a line in the New York Times obituary:

He "opposed civil rights"? Uh, no. He opposed a particular vision of them.

Miller didn't elaborate on that point -- but if you want a sense of what he might have meant, read a few passages from Helms's memoir, Here's Where I Stand. Let me remind you that this wasn't published in 1955 or 1965 -- it was published in 2005. It just sounds as if it emerges from the rankest swamps of the past. Four decades after the civil rights era, Helms still believed that the Jim Crow South was a place of happiness and harmony, an Eden destroyed by Big Gummint and "outside agitators." Oh, and some of his best friends were ... well, read for yourself:

... I did not advocate segregation, and I did not advocate aggravation. By that I mean that I thought it was wrong for people who did not know, and who did not care, about the relationships between neighbors and friends to force their ideas about how communities should work on the people who had built those communities in the first place. I believed right would prevail as people followed their consciences.

... I have always counted many blacks among my friends and believe that friendship was returned. We did not always agree about matters like demonstrations and the heavy-handed involvement of the government in shaping social policy -- because I believe those things slow true progress rather than help it. We did agree, however, that we are all people, made in the image of God and worthy of mutual respect.

During the turbulent times in the civil rights struggle, people from outside the South totally misunderstood the nature and intent of many Southerners. They thought opposition to the proposed laws meant hostility toward blacks. That simply was not true.

Many good people who supported the principle of progress for everyone could not agree to the destruction of one citizen's freedom in order to convey questionable "rights" to another. They believed forced social engineering was hazardous to the freedom we all deserve.

...It was one thing to work for the advancement of citizens throughout the nation; it was quite another to make of this a political issue and create difficult situations that fostered hatred and bigotry by polarizing the very people who most needed to work together for the good of their communities.

I felt that the citizens of my community, my state, and my region of the country were being battered by this new form of bigotry. I simply could not stay silent in the face of this assault -- and I didn't.

It has always been my belief that people of goodwill on all sides of an issue can resolve their differences without the intervention of the government. We will never know how integration might have been achieved in neighborhoods across our land, because the opportunity was snatched away by outside agitators who had their own agendas to advance. We certainly do know the price paid by the stirring of hatred, the encouragement of violence, the suspicion and distrust....

Yes, that's right -- it was all the fault of integrationists, for stirring up all that hatred, which wouldn't have existed otherwise. Why couldn't they have seen that people with no rights could have just sat around the cracker barrel with the people who had all the rights and just worked things out in a friendly manner?

Oh, and as for the Martin Luther King holiday, in 2005 Jesse Helms was still opposed to it:

...Dr. King was not always careful about his associates or his associations. Unfortunately, some of those associates were opposed to all that most Americans revere. When Dr. King was warned about these people and their records, he chose to let them remain in his circle of advisors.

Similarly, Dr. King was drawn into the Vietnam debate and went on record describing his own country as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." At one point he likened this country to Nazi Germany.

... with all this, I simply could not go along. My remarks on the floor of the Senate on October 3, 1983, sum up why, to this day, I believe we were wrong in establishing this particular holiday.

...How much better it would have been for
all Americans -- especially for those whose ancestors came to this country against their will -- to establish a day to honor the history of those generations of people who gave their all, as they worked, as they served in our military, as they built strong families and established communities, and as they embraced for themselves the miracle of America and encouraged their children to pursue their dreams.

In our emphasis on one man who emphasized discontent, we have overlooked the millions of people whose determination to look ahead instead of backward have done so much for us all. These are the people who deserve the parades and the holiday.

Funny how, as soon as we get it into our heads to honor a black man of greatness, it suddenly occurs to the Helmses of the world that we should make our next holiday some sort of Everybody Gets a Prize Day, because this honoring-the-great thing is a bad idea.

And I guess, y'know, "I have a dream" and all that weren't enough to qualify Dr. King as someone with a "determination to look ahead."

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