A Cautious Man
July 06, 2008
Following Up On The Prior Post ...
I try not to use harsh or "shock" words in posts, unless it's absolutely necessary. The post from Friday seemed to be one in which it was appropriate. I didn't provide "back up" at the time, but someone pointed out a David Broder column from 2001 that serves the purpose. In August of 2001, Senator Helms had announced that he would not be running for reelection the following year. Mr. Broder penned a very bluntly-worded column, which I think is okay to reprint, since it was addressed to Senator Helms while he was still very much alive.

Those who believe that the "liberal press" always has its knives sharpened for Republicans and conservatives must have been flummoxed by the coverage of Sen. Jesse Helms's announcement last week that he will not run for reelection next year in North Carolina. The reporting on his retirement was circumspect to the point of pussyfooting.

On the day his decision became known, the New York Times described him as "a conservative stalwart for nearly 30 years," the Boston Globe as "an unyielding icon of conservatives and an archenemy of liberals." The Washington Post identified Helms as "one of the most powerful conservatives on Capitol Hill for three decades."

Those were accurate descriptions. But they skirted the point. There are plenty of powerful conservatives in government. A few, such as Don Rumsfeld and Henry Hyde, have been around as long as Helms and have their own significant roles in 20th century political history. What really sets Jesse Helms apart is that he is the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country -- a title that one hopes will now be permanently retired. A few editorials and columns came close to saying that. But the squeamishness of much of the press in characterizing Helms for what he is suggests an unwillingness to confront the reality of race in our national life.

My own paper, The Washington Post, carried three stories about Helms's departure. In their 54 paragraphs, exactly two -- the 10th paragraph of one story and the last paragraph of another -- alluded to the subject of race.

Let me be clear. Helms has fought many battles in his career, and whether you agreed with him or not on small issues such as the funding of the arts or large ones such as Cuba, China, the Panama Canal and the United Nations, you had to respect his right as an elected and reelected senator to fight for his beliefs.

Even if you thought, as I did, that he was petty and vindictive in using his power as a committee chairman to block the appointment of former Massachusetts governor William Weld as ambassador to Mexico and, just this year, to force concessions from President Bush on textile imports before the top Treasury officials could be confirmed, you had to admit that other senators also have used their leverage to advance personal political agendas.

What is unique about Helms -- and from my viewpoint, unforgivable -- is his willingness to pick at the scab of the great wound of American history, the legacy of slavery and segregation, and to inflame racial resentment against African Americans.



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