Conservatives across America mourned at the news of the death of Sen. Jesse Helms, a man credited with impeccable conservative credentials in the U.S. Senate, a conscience of a movement devoted to the defeat of communism abroad and the defense of liberty at home. He was the staunchest of social conservatives as well, unflinching in his opposition to the abortion lobby and the gay agenda.
To liberals he was "Senator No," which meant only that he would strongly oppose everything they wanted to impose on America. Their badly disguised loathing of Helms, well-expressed over the decades, only endeared him to conservatives all the more.
Jesse Helms relished that opposition. In 1990, the media declared him politically dead, his re-election an utter impossibility. On election night, a thousand cheering supporters were made to wait before their man finally emerged to declare victory, 20 minutes late. He opened his remarks by apologizing for his tardiness. "Ah was up in mah room," he explained, "ah had to watch the grievin' face of Dan Rathuh when he had to say we'd won agin." The crowd went wild.
When Helms announced his retirement from the Senate in 2001, the media elite made their own distaste very clear. "He was so wonderfully odious," declared top Newsweek editor Evan Thomas. "He was very comforting to the East Coast media establishment to know that there was an evil guy out there that you could really fear." Thomas doesn't feel the need ever to express hatred of the Soviets. He didn't fear or hate the Maoists. He didn't fear or hate a Holocaust-denying Islamofascist like Ahmadinejad. He feared and hated an American patriot.
Their loathing was so acute they even called him a dictator and a terrorist. When Helms held up President Clinton's nomination of soft-on-drugs Republican William Weld as ambassador to Mexico in 1997, ABC's Sam Donaldson said, "beneath that courtliness beats the heart of a dictator." George Stephanopoulos added: "Or a terrorist." NBC also decried his "dictatorial tactics" in delaying a confirmation hearing for Weld -- something Democrats have done routinely throughout the Bush years without any of these media slurs.
Civility demands that when a major political figure dies, journalists (and others, too) should summon their respects, acknowledge the importance of this national figure and perhaps even concede that the intentions of his public service were good. Not so with Jesse Helms. The Washington Post stressed Helms "rode his divisiveness to victory." The New York Times obituary threw punches, describing him as the senator "whose courtly manner and mossy drawl barely masked a hard-edged conservatism that opposed civil rights, gay rights, foreign aid and modern art."