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Thursday, September 03, 2009


Dueling Obits: History's Liberal Bias Once Again Rears Its Ugly Head
Until now, I haven't written anything about the passing of Teddy Kennedy. There are two reasons: 1) I have been very busy; and 2) I couldn't write anything that wasn't already written.

That changed on Sunday when I watched Fox News Sunday. Host Chris Wallace and Fox News' vice president of News (and former Moonie Times operative) Bill Sammon essentially cribbed from a Newsbusters article bemoaning the alleged double standard regarding the New York Times obituaries for Kennedy and former senator Jesse Helms:
CHRIS WALLACE: I also want to talk about the media coverage of Ted Kennedy since his death this week -- not only the amount of it, which was extraordinary, but also the tone of it. And I want to put up the first paragraph of the New York Times story on Ted Kennedy's death. This was the first paragraph this week. "Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a son of one of the most storied families in American politics, a man who knew acclaim and tragedy in near equal measure, and who will be remembered as one of the most effective lawmakers in the history of the Senate, died late Tuesday night."

Now, here's the first paragraph of the Times story on the passing of Jesse Helms last year. "Jesse Helms, the former North Carolina senator with the courtly manner and mossy drawl, who turned his hard-edged conservatism against civil rights, gay rights, foreign aid and modern art, died early Friday."

Bill Sammon, I'm sure some people will be offended that I'm even making the comparison between these two men, but that is a striking difference.

BILL SAMMON: It is, and there's two ways to rectify that obvious double standard. One would have been for the New York Times to find something nice to say about Jesse Helms substantively other than his mossy drawl. The other, if you're going to go the -- and I think that's the preferable way to do it, because you want to -- when someone dies, you want to find something nice to say. The other way, if they wanted to be fair, would -- they would have had to put something in the Ted Kennedy lead about Chappaquiddick, about his demagoguery of Robert Bork being, you know, lunch counter America and back alley abortions and all that kind of thing. But they didn't. So either way you do it, it's unfair, and that was a striking example.

What bullshit. Kennedy and Helms were opposites. Kennedy was a man from a privileged background who fought for the underdog and for the expansion of civil rights. Helms was from a modest background but was a shill for predatory interests and fought against human rights. When Helms wasn't shilling for the tobacco industry and factory hog farms, he was promoting the neo-Confederate movement, Salvadorean death squads, tribalism, philistinism, and sterile fundamentalism (Helms helped Jerry Falwell become a national figure in the 1970's).

Helms was a classic "Dixie demagogue." Michael Lind succintly described Helms:
Having crushed the Republican and Populist parties, the oligarchs imposed a one-party dictatorship on the region, with secret state surveillance units and occasional collaboration between the police and the Ku Klux Klan. In its economy, the South was a banana republic, a commodity-exporting resource colony in which a "comprador bourgeoisie" of local landowners and local businessmen collaborated with investors in New York and elsewhere in fleecing the region.

To serve their interests, the old latifundist families and corporate elites hired "Dixie demagogues," who were to genuine populists like William Jennings Bryan what a Disney pirate is to a pirate. All of them were entertaining. Some began as entertainers, like musician-slash-flour miller W. Lee "Pass the Biscuits, Pappy" O'Daniel, who went from hosting the "Hillbilly Flour" radio show to the Texas governor's mansion in 1939. The "Dixie demagogues" denounced various supposed enemies of the white tribe, but with two exceptions -- Huey Long and George Wallace -- they never threatened the rule of the country clubs and courthouse gangs. Jesse Helms was one of these theatrical quasi-populists, an uncomplicated establishment conservative who parlayed a liberal-baiting radio show into a political career. Like other faux-homespun Southern conservatives, he employed rhetorical populism against blacks, homosexuals, liberals, professors, modern artists and "common-ists" in the service of his business backers, most noticeably North Carolina's tobacco industry.


History has a liberal bias because liberals like Ted Kennedy have promoted the campaigns that have expanded human rights while right-wingers like Helms cynically fought reforms that enfranchised his fellow Southerners.

The Public/Private Divide
Helms and Kennedy are opposites in another area: the public/private divide. On Rush Limbaugh's radio show this week, guest-host neoconservative Mark Steyn faulted some liberals for saying that Kennedy's public achievements make up for his failures in private life--namely his boozing and womanizing.

This is true. Although Kennedy fought for the poor and disenfranchized, his personal conduct was notorious. This is the mirror opposite of Helms, who despite his racist and reactionary views, was--by all accounts, the quintessential Southern gentlemen in his personal life. My response: if Kennedy boned an occasional barista on his own time, who the fuck cares? What matters is defending the rights of Americans in public policy (I previously discussed the issue of private versus public vice here) It comes down to this: If you were a Mississippi black in 1965 who were you going to depend upon, people like Kennedy or Helms? That's why history has judged Kennedy more favorably than Helms.

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