‘We need a hundred more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate’


Nearly 11 years ago, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R) noted that his home state of Mississippi supported Strom Thurmond’s presidential candidacy in 1948. “If the rest of the country had followed our lead,” Lott said, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.”

Given that Thurmond was running on a segregationist platform in 1948, Lott’s remarks were not well received. Indeed, the Bush/Cheney White House quickly abandoned him and Lott was forced to give up his post.

The incident came to mind yesterday after listening to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

The Texas Republican spoke yesterday at the Heritage Foundation, appearing at an event named after the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), where Cruz was quite effusive in his praise.

“I’ll tell you something … the very first political contribution I ever made in my life was to Jesse Helms. When I was a kid, I sent $10 to Jesse Helms, ‘cause they were beating up on him, they were coming after him hard and I thought it wasn’t right, and at the time my allowance was 50 cents a week,” the Texas Republican said. “I am willing to venture a guess that I may have been Jesse Helms’ single largest donor as a percentage of annual income.”

Cruz also recalled a story about when a young Helms received a campaign donation check from John Wayne. He explained that, according to the story, Helms figured out how to get in touch with Wayne and called to thank him for the support.

“Apparently Wayne said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re that guy saying all those crazy things. We need 100 more like you,’” Cruz said. “The willingness to say all those crazy things is a rare, rare characteristic in this town, and you know what? It’s every bit as true now as it was then. We need a hundred more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.”

Is that so.

Let’s put aside the oddity of Cruz’s arithmetic, and the fact that if the Senate featured 100 Helms clones, there wouldn’t be a seat for Cruz (unless, that is, Cruz considers himself a senator in the Helms mold).

Instead, let’s remember the man Cruz is so proud to have supported, politically and financially.

The late David Broder wrote a remarkable piece in 2001, a week after Helms announced his retirement from the Senate. Broder, known for moderation and caution, said what many in the Beltway media were reluctant to acknowledge.

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. […]

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.

The man Cruz celebrated yesterday was arguably the last proud, unrepentant racist to serve in Congress. When Cruz said America needs “a hundred more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate,” what he’s endorsing is a chamber run by white supremacists.

What’s more, the depths of Helms’ bigotry ran deeper. As Tim Murphy reported yesterday, “Helms believed gays were ‘weak, morally sick wretches’ and argued that ‘there is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy’ – motivating factors behind his push to block funding for research into HIV at a time when the epidemic was killing tens of thousands of people in the United States alone. He described AIDS education as ‘so obscene, so revolting, I may throw up.’”

Ted Cruz wants to embrace the Helms legacy? He wants a Senate dominated by members in the Helms mold? Great. This seems like a discussion well worth having.