Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Helms versus the First Amendment

Ah, Jesse. I kind of missed you, you bigoted old bastard. No current politician does crazy quite like you did, though many of your fellow Republicans have tried.

Now that your book's out, though, you can go away again. I didn't miss stuff like this:
In vintage Helms fashion, the 83-year-old North Carolinian and former newsman who left the Senate in 2003 assails a news establishment he describes as contemptuous of American values and a threat to the country's future.

"We need to face up to the fact that the nation's freedom has been put in danger by the very people who claim to uphold it, with their claim that freedom of speech gives them license to say anything - or do anything - because they are simply being 'informative.'"
As a Kansan, I've been around all kinds of Republicans my entire life and I've grown to admire many of them. For example I'm a huge fan of James H. Lane and, when he's acting in an honest matter (which lately has not always been the case), I like Bob Dole. I like no Kansas Republican more, though, than William Allen White.

Editor of the Emporia Gazette, White wrote scathing, brilliant editorials opposing his political foes. It's from one of White's essays -- "What's the Matter With Kansas?" -- that Thomas Frank borrowed the title for his best-selling book. Even more important, though, was the editorial "To an Anxious Friend," for which White won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923. This is the entire piece:
YOU TELL ME that law is above freedom of utterance And I reply that you can have no wise laws nor free enforcement of wise laws unless there is free expression of the wisdom of the people - and, alas, their folly with it. But if there is freedom, folly will die of its own poison, and the wisdom will survive. That is the history of the race. It is the proof of man's kinship with God. You say that freedom of utterance is not for time of stress, and I reply with the sad truth that only in time of stress is freedom of utterance in danger. No one questions it in calm days, because it is not needed. And the reverse is true also; only when free utterance is suppressed is it needed, and when it is needed, it is most vital to justice. Peace is good. But if you are interested in peace through force and without full discussion - that is to say, free utterance decently and in order - your interest in justice is slight. And peace without justice is tyranny, no matter how you may sugar-coat it with expediency. This state today is in more danger from suppression than from violence, because, in the end, suppression leads to violence. Violence, indeed, is the child of suppression. Whoever pleads for justice helps to keep the peace; and whoever tramples upon the plea for justice temperately made in the name of peace only outrages peace and kills something fine in the heart of man, which God put there when we got our manhood. When that is killed, brute meets brute on each side of the line.

So, dear friend, put fear out of your heart. This nation will survive, this state will prosper, the orderly business of life will go forward if only men can speak in whatever way given them to utter what their hearts hold - by voice, by posted card, by letter or by press. Reason never has failed men. Only force and repression have made the wrecks in the world.
When I read this, I remember that my state--and the Republican Party--were founded on liberal, progressive ideals of freedom. If I had been born in, say, 1860, I could have been a Republican for almost 70 years without guilt, a lifetime. That's not to say I would have agreed with everything the party did, but on most issues, Republicans were in the right. Later, though, I would have had to seek out Democrats to find progressive ideals. Republicans gave in to the divisiveness of red-hunting (of which White was an early opponent) and the race-baiting "Southern Strategy" (of which Helms was a notorious heir and Republicans have finally admitted to, but not quite stopped using.)

I read the other day that the earth's core is spinning faster than the crust. A team of scientists dug deeply into seismic records and found that movement in the earth was causing shifts in seismic waves. I worry that they're wrong. I worry that news of the state of the Party of Lincoln is filtering into the earth and what they've discovered were the vibrations of generations of progressive Republicans spinning swiftly in their graves.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this quote:
"We need to face up to the fact that the nation's freedom has been put in danger by the very people who claim to uphold it, with their claim that freedom of speech gives them license to say anything - or do anything - because they are simply being 'informative.'"

I assume because it is Jesse, that he was talking about the Democrats of the 1970s and not the GOP of today.

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

I knew a North Carolinian who registered to vote as a Republican just to be able to vote against Jesse Helms twice each election cycle!

As to the "Party of Lincoln," I'm surprised I've not seen the parallels drawn between Lincoln's opposition to the Mexican War and progressive opposition to the Invasion of Iraq. Just as Lincoln opposed "Mr. Polk's War," I am certain he would have opposed "Mr. Bush's War."

[In calling for war, Polk asserted that Mexico had "shed American blood upon American soil" In Congress, Lincoln gave a speech demanding the Polk identify the precise spot within the US that American blood had been shed, to substantiate Polk's assertion. I can't see Lincoln as mildly accepting Bush & co's vague invocations of Iraqi WMDs as grounds for starting a war!]

7:48 AM  

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