In 1990, when U.S. Senator Jesse Helms ran against former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, Helms used an ad by GOP strategist, Alex Castellanos, which showed a white hand destroying a job application with an announcer saying that person needed the job but it was given to a Black person.
I will never forget that because I lived in Virginia Beach at the time and my girlfriend’s father was in NC helping with Gantt’s campaign.
I still remember how outraged and hurt my girlfriend’s father was to witness that kind of race baiting in a 20th Century election, particularly when Black Americans knew that qualitative and quantitative data overwhelmingly showed affirmative action benefited White women in private and public sector jobs, more so than Black Americans.
That didn’t matter to Helms. He knew the ad would fuel racial stereotypes and rally his base based upon fear.
Helm’s ad provoked extreme hostilities which provoked open quarrels in NC between Black and White voters, and that is just a scratch of the surface.
There are a number of other well documented incidents where Sen. Jesse Helms demonstrated that, as a human being, he had a dark soul, even if he did embrace Constitutional principles in a general sense.
I think it brings a measure of shame upon conservatism to call good evil and to call evil good, in the name of defending an individual.
It would be more credible to say that Sen. Cruz in no way has endorsed all of what Sen. Jesse Helms stood for and has not in any way endorsed all that Sen. Helms did as an elected official, but merely recognizes some of the positive contributions Sen. Helms gave to shared principles.
No need to try to sanitize the record of racism or race politics that is indeed public record, when it comes to Sen. Helms.
Yet, my Conservative peers hold them up as American heroes and determine that the fact these men were slave owners is not an expression of all these men were.
I accept that.
However, it is important to embrace both the best and worst of historical figures, to understand who they were and the nature of their spiritual journey.
Helms was a man who did some very dirty things to win elections. Some may say, “That’s politics’, but I disagree. He did them because it was in his heart to do them.
Not every politicians is dirty and not everyone has it in their heart to resort to tactics that would stir of racial hatred.
In the best of us, there is bad and in the worst of us, there is good.
We have more credibility when we acknowledge that, rather than pretend good is evil and evil is good.
At the end of the day, I don’t begrudge Sen. Cruz’s right to embrace some of what Sen. Helms stood for, but neither he or anyone else should be surprised or disappointed by the reaction of those who found the race politics of Helms to be unsettling.