August 29, 2005
"NOBODY I CARE ABOUT CARES":
'Senator No' not meant as compliment (Jesse Helms, August 29, 2005, Washington Times)
The Raleigh News & Observer dubbed me "Senator No." It wasn't meant as a compliment, but I certainly took it as one.
Posted by Orrin Judd at August 29, 2005 12:40 AM
There was plenty to stand up and say "No" to during my first of five terms representing the people of North Carolina in the U.S. Senate.
That was why I had sought election in 1972 -- to try to derail the freight train of liberalism that was gaining speed toward its destination of "government-run" everything, paid for with big tax bills and record debt.
My goal, when my wife, Dot, and I decided I would run, was to stick to my principles and stand up for conservative ideals. [...]
My staff wasn't always as thick-skinned as I was. One new aide was all set to fire off a response to a highly critical editorial. I had to tell him, "Son, just so you understand: I don't care what the New York Times says about me. And nobody I care about cares what the New York Times says about me."
Was there anything to the accusation that his campaigns were racially polarising?
It was sort of like anti-war protestors saying W is polarizing the country. Takes two to tangle.
Visited his office once, as part of a Mathcounts thing. He had his office walls lined with framed editorial cartoons making fun of him, and little statuettes ("Watchdog of the Treasury" and the like) from groups. Said he had a whole warehouse full of the cartoons, and he rotated them through.
About the campaigns. The ad that people always point to is the famous "Hands" ad. The ad showed a white pair of hands crumpling up a job rejection notice, while a voiceover says: "You needed that job. And you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority under government racial setasides. Is that really fair? [cut to black and white photo of Harvey Gantt, his (black) opponent that fall)] Harvey Gantt supports quotas. [cut to color photo of Sen. Helms] Senator Helms opposes quotas." Very few politicians actually run on a full-bore antiquota campaign. Lots of complaints that the campaign was designed to appeal to racists (sure, white racists do oppose quotas, although certainly do many non-racists) or that Sen. Helms by himself didn't have the power to stop quotas. (Which had somewhat of a point.) People had to rely on the "code word" theory, as the ad was not explicitly racist by any means, unless you believe any opposition to affirmative action setasides is racist. Some critics probably do.
His campaign in 1980 he made into a big referendum about President Carter signing the treaty to give the Panama Canal to Panama, and how he opposed it. Governor Hunt couldn't deal with that one.
The Gantt campaign was polarizing, partially because critics insisted that any opposition to affirmative action had to be racist. That certainly polarized a lot of people (mostly whites in NC) against the civil rights establishment.
One reason Democrats hated Helms from way back was because he met the challenge Jim Hunt (NC governor) gave him in 1984 - prove I ever raised taxes. The Helms campaign ran an ad (shot on home video) where Hunt approved (as governor) some procedural motion setting the stage for a tax increase. Helms won, the election was the most expensive Senate battle up to that time, and the left went berserk.
Jesse's victories weren't huge, but he always won more than 52% of the vote.