Hilzoy pretty much answers that question. Let's be clear--the conservative movement and its ideals can be judged on thier merits, race aside. But most black folks don't even get to the judging part, and all the fawning over the ghost of Jesse Helms demonstrate why. According to the Heritage Foundation Helms wasn't simply a very important conservative, he was a "champion of freedom." President Bush said Helms was not just a distinguished senator but "a kind, decent and humble man."
I guess. But when Martin Luther King and the nonviolent protesters of the 60s were trying to secure basic rights, Helms, in between denegrating King's followers as communists and "moral degenerates," was busy asserting that "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."" When Carol Moseley Braun was elected to the Senate, Helms would sing Dixie in the elevator whenever saw her, with the intent, as he told Orrin Hatch, of making Mosley-Braun cry. Behind closed doors, Helms reportedly referred to all black people as "Fred." I really could on, check out Hilzoy's post for the rest.
My point is simple: When the "champion" of your movement thinks that "crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are a fact of life which must be faced," don't expect a single sane, hard-working, red-blodded black person to take your arguments against Affirmative Action seriously. Homilies to Martin Luther King, given 40 years late, by people who did not even want to honor his birthday will not help. Hiring Yolanda Adams for your convention will not help. Not even gay marriage amendments will ultimately help. Trust me, as much as we may hate gays, we hate people who venerate racists even more. Purge your party of treasonous Confederate thugs, anti-miscegenists, and racial phrenologists, then we can talk.
UPDATE: Also I don't think this dismissal covers all "conservatives" who made the wrong choice in the 60s. Barry Goldwater's resistance to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was stupid, but he wasn't a racist. Goldwater also supported the Arizona NAACP, desegregated the state's National Guard and supported a ban on the poll tax. Which makes the embrace of Helms, to me, all the more galling. I think civilized, good-hearted, intelligent people often disagree on, say, the role of the military in the world, the best way for a country to provide health care, the most prudent tax policy. Reasonable, good-hearted people can even debate the merits of hot-button issues like Affirmative Action, which we've done on this very blog. But reasonable good-hearted people don't do what Helms attempted to do Carol Moseley Braun. Vile bigots do that. And people who embrace vile bigots as their champions should expect to have thier motives doubted by people like me.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.