The Plank

Jesse Helms, Civil Rights Visionary

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The New York Times obituary of Jesse Helms had the temerity to note that he "opposed civil rights." National Review's John Miller objects:

He "opposed civil rights"? Uh, no. He opposed a particular vision of them.

Hilzoy has a lot of detail about Helms' "particular vision" of civil rights. Among other things, Helms was an avowed believer in black intellectual inferiority, an hysterical opponent of interracial marriage, called the 1964 Civil Rights Act "the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress," and said of civil rights demonstrators, "The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that's thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men's rights." Helms' "vision" of civil rights for African-Americans was that there should be none.

The mainstream conservative position on civil rights is that the equal rights of the early civil rights movement were good, but things started to go wrong with the imposition of affirmative action. It's a flawed though not illegitimate view. But Helms wasn't a champion of color-blindness who objected to quotas. He was an out-and-out white supremacist.

Moreover, it would be one thing if conservatives celebrated the things they liked about Helms' life while disavowing his bigotry. But their unalloyed celebration of Helms is a staggering indictment of movement conservatism's views on race.

--Jonathan Chait

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