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Conservatism in the wake of Jesse Helms

Yesterday I posted my initial impressions about the passing of Jesse Helms (“Bye, Jesse, you left quite a legacy“), today I wanted to put up a post to discuss what the end of this chapter of bigotry really means. As in what’s really changed in the social conservative movement.

Our country has made many strides in overcoming racial prejudice and homophobia since Jesse Helms stepped onto the political scene, but success to combat it has taken legislation, court decisions, and forward-thinking portions of the business community that saw discrimination as bad for business.

By and large the masses who are scared of diversity have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into mandated legal compliance, but those tools don’t change hearts and minds — only personal interaction does that over time. I’ve said that time and again when referring to the power of coming out of the closet.

Jesse Helms knew he was losing the battle to maintain the social order of his childhood  that he championed (you know, where the Negro knew his place). The conservative movement back then had his back.

Here’s a topic I’d like to explore and discuss — where does social conservatism stand today, and how different is it than it was in Helms’s time? What does today’s conservatism stand for in your state’s GOP?

I put in two cents on NC’s GOP below the fold.Linda Daves, current chair of the NC GOP said this of Helms:

It is no exaggeration to say that without Jesse Helms, there may have been no conservative movement and no Republican Party in North Carolina…The truly great legacy of Senator Helms is that he left behind so many great leaders who have been inspired by him to pursue the conservative vision for North Carolina.

Here are statements from the state GOP platform. Helms would be proud.

Homosexual behavior is not normal and should not be taught as acceptable. Public schools should not be used to teach children that homosexual behavior is normal. Taxpayers should not fund benefit plans for unmarried partners. We support federal and state constitutional amendments to ensure that marriage is limited to the union of one man and one woman. We oppose the adoption or foster parenting of children by same sex couples.

America’s defense must be second to none. The ban against known homosexuals should be retained. The armed forces should be maintained at full combat readiness.

Government should treat all citizens fairly and impartially and should assure equal opportunity without regard to wealth, race, religion, sex, or national origin. We oppose all forms of invidious discrimination. We oppose efforts to include sexual orientation as a category under civil rights laws.

On paper, the NC GOP has made strides, on race. In practice, when it comes to hardball politics, today’s NC GOP doesn’t mind dealing in color arousal. Womb control is part of the agenda as well.

We also support the adoption of a human life amendment to the constitution. We stand with the overwhelming majority of Americans who oppose efforts to mandate legalized abortion or to fund local, national, or international organizations that provide or promote abortion services.

Helms’s legacy is still firmly in place on those fronts.

I see a lot of lip service being paid by the GOP at the national level to the idea of broadening the party by bringing more people of color into the fold. It has failed miserably. There seems to be little value in that party as to examining why that’s the case. We on the left might see the answers as obvious, but really, it doesn’t take a high-priced consultant to ask them some key questions to chew on.

* Why hasn’t the Republican party been able to close the sale with black socially conservative voters? (aside from working it hard on the marriage issue, it’s hard to overlook a little matter called Katrina)

* And what about Latino voters? The outlandish, Tom Tancredo, build-the-wall/Minuteman approach to immigration issues hasn’t helped the GOP there.

* Pulling in the women’s vote. Not sure on this one, since a lot of “security moms” vote GOP. Will the continued push by social conservatives for womb control drive them away this cycle, with SCOTUS on the line?

You could go on and on, asking questions about domestic and foreign perspectives held by the fundie wing of the GOP, which has strangled the party. Do you ever see the rest of the party finally jettisoning this fringe?

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding