WASHINGTON -- There is a stupendous revelation to be mined from the punditry surrounding North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms' recent announcement not to seek re-election. Those Americans who have wondered about the sources of liberal moral superiority will find an explanation in the liberals' boos and hisses as Helms announced that at 79 he is not seeking re-election.
In truth there is no obvious reason for the liberals to hold themselves up as morally superior. For one thing, they often snicker at morality, at least at traditional morality. They treat the Ten Commandants as a multiple choice test. In judging such liberal heroes as the Clintons and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, they boast that getting seven out of 10 right is pretty good: "We're all human." "Everyone does it." "Let he who hath not (fill in the blank) throw the first stone."
Furthermore, the liberal brethren are quick to scold the conservatives for injecting morality into politics. Such enlightened people as the People for the American Way Inc. grow indignant when traditionalists claim their "family values" superior to those of, say, two homosexuals living together, or a commune of loving "hippies" raising their cats and dogs and children in Marxist bliss out in a sylvan valley in Dog Patch. When conservatives take to the moral high ground by wrapping themselves in the flag or uttering public pieties, the liberal indignantly claims to be equally patriotic and high-minded.
Yet connoisseurs of politics are well aware of the moral arrogance of liberals. When that liberal epitome George McGovern ran for the presidency, did he not claim to speak for the "constituency of conscience"? Have not subsequent liberal candidates boasted of their "decency"? And do not most claim that their opponents on the right suffer from such moral deficiencies as selfishness, intolerance and "hate"? Remember how quickly those of us who laughed and laughed at the Clinton pratfalls were termed "Clinton-haters," never "Clinton-teasers."
Liberalism since its rise a century ago has made most political disagreements into matters of morality. Even questions of public policy are seen by liberals as moral questions. During the Cold War, the so-called conservatives who claimed to seek "peace through strength" were adjudged morally inferior to those (the liberals) who sought "negotiation" and disarmament. Today, those who oppose affirmative action or abortion are morally inferior to those who favor them.
Which brings us back to the explanation of liberal moral superiority to be found in the liberals' hoots at Helms' retirement. For 28 years, he has been a major voice for American conservatism. In the Senate, he was particularly vocal on behalf of national defense and a forceful foreign policy. Though a Southerner, he was never involved in the segregation struggles, having come to the Senate after the integration of the South became a settled matter of national law. There is no racist statement authored by him on the public record, unlike the public record of some other Southern Democrats from his era or for that matter the record of the Rev. Jackson -- remember his reference to New York city as Hymie town?
In sum, Helms is not a racist. Yet as the retiring statesman, now old and unwell, made his
congee from public life, such moral paragons as John Podesta, the alibi artist, called him a racist. Podesta, President Clinton's last chief of staff torturing the truth through Monicagate, impeachment and Pardongate, told a CNN audience that Helms "built his whole career on hate and division." And under The Washington Post headline, "Jesse Helms, White Racist," columnist David Broder wrote of Helms' "willingness ... to inflame racial resentment against African-Americans." According to Broder, Helms' "Mein Kampf" is his opposition to affirmative action and to a national holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.
Liberals, you see, consider all conservatives racists. It is our opposition to policies that liberals insist are necessary for racial harmony that makes us racists. And it is liberals' advocacy of these policies that makes them morally superior.
Conservatives and other observers of public life wonder at times at why liberals are so angry. Some conservatives think it is because the liberals are slipping in their domination of the political culture. They have steadily lost political power wherever it is dependent on the vote, and they might fear that their domination of such undemocratic institutions as the universities and the media is endangered.
Their political losses do, of course, make liberals mad. Yet what makes them madder still is that they are good and their opponents are not. From the presidency of Richard Nixon on, they have been calling conservatives racists. This conviction has grown in them all these years. (Remember that otherwise inscrutable NAACP ad in Campaign 2000 linking George W. Bush to the highway dragging death of a black man in Texas?)
It is on the occasion of a great conservative's retirement that they shout it out: "Conservatives, White Racists." The chief source of the liberals' moral superiority is their presumption that conservatives are racists and liberals are good people.