Early last year when his presidential bid was gearing up, one of Barack Obama’s classmates from Harvard Law handed the New York Times a photo of the young superstar from a 1990 election-watching party. Obama is wearing jeans and a blue shirt opened down to the last button, as if he’s en route to a phone booth and a battle with Lex Luthor. The buttons are undone so that Obama can reveal a T-shirt: “Harvey Gantt for U.S. Senate.”
Why Harvey Gantt, the former mayor of Charlotte who was running for a Senate seat in North Carolina? Why not, say, John Kerry, who was winning his second term that night in Massachusetts? It wasn’t just that Harvey Gantt was black. It was that he was running against Jesse Helms.
That year Helms had attacked Gantt for benefiting from racial preferences, for supporting racial quotas, and for being close to Jesse Jackson. Gantt fought back with millions of dollars in campaign funds, raised on swings to California and New York from liberals much like Obama. The result was the same as every time Helms faced a challenge from the left. Helms won.
There was nothing unusual about Obama’s 1990 sartorial choice. To be a liberal in the ages of Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton was to oppose Jesse Helms. In Righteous Warrior, his authoritative, occasionally textbook-ish biography of the senator, William A. Link provides a generous helping of their insults: Helms was “the Senate’s most persistent yahoo,” “Senator Know-Nothing,” an undisputed homophobe and a vaudeville bigot.
School busing, the Martin Luther King holiday, AIDS research, gay rights, arts funding, foreign aid — name a liberal cause and Helms was there trying to block it. How many senators had Loudon Wainwright III songs (“Jesse Don’t Like It”) written about them for NPR?
THE IRONY HERE — and Link is only the umpteenth writer to realize this — is that the more Helms stoked that anger, the more he won. Every dollar from an eastern seaboard or San Francisco liberal was matched by support from Helms’s base.
On the night of his 1990 re-election, Helms watched Dan Rather announce his victory and crowed about it when he took the stage. There was “no joy in Mudville tonight,” he said. “If the liberal politicians think I’ve been a thorn in their side in the past, they haven’t seen anything yet.”
Link portrays Helms as central to “the rise of modern conservatism.” This is true, as anyone who worked on Ronald Reagan’s primary campaign in 1976 could tell you. Reagan’s career would have ended if Helms hadn’t fired up his political machine.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?