What Should Democrats Learn From Jesse Helms?

I don’t talk about politics here very much.  Which isn’t to say that I don’t find politics interesting.  We talk about it at home all the time, which often makes for spirited happy-hour discussions.

One thing we agree on is that the Democratic Party has got to be losing its collective mind if it thinks that front runner and presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton has a good shot of winning the Presidency a year from now.  They have apparently ignored a poll taken in the spring in which 50% of adults (including 45% of women) said that they would not vote for her.  Period.  (Or maybe they think her charming personality will win people over in time.)  Now you can win the presidency with a minority of the popular vote – George W. Bush did that in 2000, as Bill Clinton did in 1992 — but I wouldn't think that's your first-choice strategy.

The Dems must feel that the polls are somehow wrong or that they will change.

And they’re right.  They probably are wrong.

I was in graduate school at the University of North Carolina in 1990 during a US Senate election between incumbent Jesse Helms and Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt.  Helms had been around for 20 years and was the dominant political voice in the state.  He was incredibly polarizing.  People either loved him or hated him.  Unapologetically, he’d just tell you what he liked and didn’t, what he’d vote for and what he wouldn’t.  Helms was never much of a friend to blacks or gays and to me he was the archetypal conservative Southern politician of that era.

Gantt was African-American and attacked Helms for his record on race and gender equality.  It seemed that after the Reagan-Bush 80s, there was beginning to be some interest in having the pendulum swing back to the left.  Polls throughout the summer and fall showed Gantt with lead – anywhere from 5 to 9 points.  It looked liked the end for Helms.

On Election Day, Helms won 53% to 47%.

How could this happen?  Where did Gantt’s lead go?  How could all these polls be so wrong?

The truth is that people lied to the pollsters.  When it came down to it, they told pollsters that they would vote one way (i.e. vote for Gantt), but when the ballot got marked as many as 10% of people voted the other way.

I’m sure people have written books and op-ed pieces and given speeches on what this sort of behavior says about society and how we deal with media-expectations and why we choose to vote the way we do.

But the kernel of truth is this: Hillary Clinton is polarizing (though not for the same reasons that Helms was – I’ve yet to get a sense of what she really thinks because it changes so often).  A huge chunk of the electorate has already said they simply will not vote for her.

The question is: how many of those that said they might, when it really comes down to it – won’t?

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23 thoughts on “What Should Democrats Learn From Jesse Helms?

  1. You know that, as a conservative, I wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton even if someone had a sawed-off shotgun pressed up against the back of my head and their finger on the trigger.Still, removing all moral convictions and faith principles from the equation, none of the current Democratic candidates make sense if we wish to remain economically viable. I'm not sure how a free market economy, low taxes, small government, and, I don't know, a trend *away* from socialism doesn't make sense.Half of my family is Democratic — old-school Southern Democratic, but Democratic nonetheless — and I can tell you this much: they'd take the sawed-off shotgun over Clinton, too.

  2. I won't get into economics when the GOP has presided over the most profligate spending spree since Paris Hilton got her first credit card.
    I will say that I am no fan of Hillary Clinton. Didn't care too much for Bill either. But the only GOP candidate I respect is Ron Paul. And I wouldn't vote even for him. The rest are either lightweights or crazies or phonies.
    If anyone polled me right now, they would get a definite no on Hillary. But if she wins the nomination, and the current crop of Republican midgets is the competition, I will vote for her knowing that she is, at least, a heavyweight.

  3. Since I'm not in the US I won't have to make that choice. I think it's a little too early to say yes or no on a specific candidate when you don't know the opposition. It's always different when it comes down to two candidates and many people, unfortunately, simply choose the lesser of two evils. Or maybe they just flip a coin?

  4. This is an intriguing post. I am a registered Democrat, and voted twice for President Clinton. I even read his biography (well, at least some of it). Despite this I will NOT be voting for Hillary either in the primaries or in November. I will vote Republican or for Ralph freakin' Nader (which I realize is a throw-away vote) if she's the Democratic candidate. I'm also completely disenchanted with all of the Democratic front-runners, so who knows what I'll do in November, but mark my words, it's not gonna be Hillary for me.Hillary's a hated woman. So hated that I think most of the people who are saying they won't vote for her, really won't.

  5. I didn't say I was in any way, shape, or form pleased with the GOP. They deserved to lose control of Congress because they have abandoned the core conservative beliefs that once defined the party.That said, I'd take a Republican over a Democrat any day.

  6. Why would anyone vote for Hillary Clinton an unethical lawyer? My parents preached self-reliance not reliance on government programs. It seems that the real moral crisis in America is accepting leaders who are more interested in their own power then doing the ethically right thing. I voted for Ron Paul in 1988 and plan on doing so again.

  7. see, i don't follow politics much. but living in DC, i'm sure i'll get sucked in sooner or later. i had a conversation with my coworkers recently about it, and we decided that out of the Democratic race, Hillary's more likely to win the nomination. Obama's quite good, but needs more experience – maybe he'll be '12. and Edwards is also viable, but just can't compete with the popularity contest. out of the Republicans, we could only really see Rudy getting the nod.i honestly don't know who i'd vote for – Rudy or Hillary. although it hurts to say i'd even consider voting for a Republican, he's the only one i'd think about. but i don't know enough about either to really make a decision . . . yet.as always, politics is just a race of the "lesser of two evils".

  8. good post.i don't like getting into political debates because i tend to get upset and when i get upset, i don't think rationally. hehe…my husband is registered republican and i'm a registered democrat. we never ever ever talk politics. hehe. :)

  9. Can I ask everyone: What are the reasons you dislike (or just won't vote for) Hillary? Is it her stance or her personality?
    I'm a registered independent, so I won't vote in the primaries. I'm fairly sure I'll be voting Dem for the election, because I don't support this country staying in the war.
    I vote purely on issues. There is no candidate that represents my opinions on every single issue. That's no surprise. I'll vote for the candidate that I think will tackle my high-priority issues best.
    My high-priority issues are: Health care reform, Credit/housing fallout, war, social security funding.

  10. A vote for a third party is not a throw away vote, despite what some politicos may want you to believe. If we as a people are dissatisfied with how things are being run by our current government it is our duty to replace these people; and it's as clear (to me at least) that both parties are corrupt to the bone, so why not replace them?Every time you cast a vote for a third party you cast a vote for change. If enough of us do it people should start getting the message.

  11. I don't like Hillary for a number of reasons, some of which I am sure differ from those others here would give.
    First is a philosophical one: I don't believe in dynasties. To give Hillary the White House after having a second Bush could conceivably keep the presidency in two families' hands for 24 years. That, to me, in patently un-American. The potential for patronage and influence abuse inherent in that set-up should be obvious. Kevin Phillips is the best advocate for this opinion. I do admit that Hillary should not necessarily be blamed for a condition which she did not create, particularly the idiocy of the voting public electing the latest Bush twice, let alone once.
    Second is a political one: Hillary shows the same tendency as her husband to sell out the progressive agenda for the sake of electoral expediency. Not only does that bother me, I think that it completely misreads the mood of the voting public, which is as ready for a progressive message as it has been since the mid-'60s. I think we are faced with an historic opportunity to move this country off the path of selfishness and cynicism it has been on since Bobby's death finally killed the idealism which had largely held sway in this country since FDR.
    Third is a practical one. I don't actually believe that Hillary deserves the vitriol which you see exhibited, even here on this thread. She is a very intelligent and thoughtful politician, whose tenure as President would easily outstrip the gross and venal mediocracy we have been subjected to under Bush. And she has built working relationships in Congress which would serve her well. But the knee-jerk vitriol toward her would, to some extent, paper over the sins of the GOP, and mitigate the electoral losses they so dearly deserve. I think her presence at the top of the ticket would damage Democratic chances down the ticket.
    Fourth is a constitutional one. The evisceration of constitutional checks and balances and civil liberties under Bush literally threaten the very fabric and existence of this much more fragile than realized experiment called Liberty. I have not seen Hillary in the forefront of this struggle against the manifold abominations foisted on us by these moral pygmies. There are times when political considerations need to be set aside. When voices as varied as Al Gore, Bob Barr, and Ron Paul speak in unison, we are in one of those times.
    Fifth is a military one. Hillary will move slowly to correct the mistakes made militarily by this administration. Her history and concern for her own image will keep her from being bold. More soldiers than necessary will die fighting where none should have died in the first place.
    Having said all of that, I would easily prefer Hillary to any of the Republicans running. Out of all of them, only Ron Paul would not be likely to continue the authoritarian drift of the GOP away from its roots. And Ron Paul has other issues which are being ignored Giuliani, who seems on the surface to be the most popular candidate, has a long history of contempt for civil liberty, and his personality is most like Bush's of all of the candidates. To paraphrase Churchill, when comparing Hillary to the GOP candidates, she is the worst option, except for all the other options.

  12. Thanks Fish for your thoughtful comment. It is true that if enough people vote for a third party, change can be effected. My jaded perspective comes from the fact that Ralph Nader made a run 3 times for green/reform (1X for democrat), and still hasn't come close to winning an election. I could write a whole post on Nader as he's actually an intelligent candidate who has been influential in the environmental arena. Sadly, few truly take him seriously when it comes to the presidency…perhaps even myself.

  13. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. So much of what I hear against Hillary sounds like sexist rhetoric (the same type of things you'd hear about Martha Stewart). Anyway, I agree with much of what you say, particularly #2 and 3. But, I'm still not so sure about the other Dems and their ability to effect my top issues.

  14. Jen — I couldn't agree more. I loathe the move towards bigger and more universal government. I can only imagine what healtcare will look like in this country if the gov't oversees it.
    I think the root of that philosophy (and why it bothers me so) is summarized in HRC's own book "It Takes a Villlage" — I would argue rather that it takes a family that teaches self-responsibility and right from wrong — but that's just me.

  15. Jacolily — I would be careful against either side assuring victory or defeat in this election. I recall that before the 1992 election G.H.W Bush was thought by most informed minds to be unbeatable — and so most of the Dem-heavyweights of the time stayed back, waiting for 1996.
    But success in the 1st Iraq campaign was quickly forgotten by a downturn in the economy, and a darkhorse in Bill Clinton was able to ride that all the way into the White House.
    A year is a long time — a more stable Iraq and a rebounding economy 11 months from now may make for a completely different political landscape for a generally myopic public.

  16. Zak and ancora impara — the Ron Paul campaign has been fascinating to watch — and remarkable that he's attracted so many young people to his campaign.
    I think the thing that is most attractive is that you get the sense that Ron Paul is telling you exactly what he thinks. And after years of Bill Clinton nuancing stances, Bush & Cheney deflecting the truth, and Kerry trying to claim all sides simultaneously (but somehow without contradiction) — there is an unmistakeable appeal.
    Ancora — you get at this in your great reply analyzing HRC — it is that sense of HRC's willingness to do/say anything to get elected that makes her unlikeable (her husband had charm to pull it off, she does not) — and in the end that translates as being dishonest.

  17. I think this is one of the most well-thought out replies I'd ever gotten and I thank you for it. Not that I agree with all of it — but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate it…
    I don't know that America is ready for a "progressive" agenda, and its probably unfair to call the electorate's actions "idiocy" — that is, the last election ushered in a Dem-led House — is that somehow less idiotic?
    In fact, other than Jesse Helms success in the 1992, I almost included (but I didn't because I wanted the post to stay on topic) the very last Presidential election as an example. President Bush was largely unpopular and politically vulnerable — the Dems nominated an unlikeable patrician candidate who came across as making sure you knew that he knew better for you than you did. Exit polls shows a lead and likely success for Kerry — and yet — Bush won both the popular vote and electoral vote handily —- the similarites are what I think the Dem-leadership somehow fails to appreciate with HRC.

    PS I really didn't mean for this post to be a referendum on Hillary Clinton…

  18. I think it's totally true that it takes a village to raise a child. Our kids aren't raised in bubbles, only seeing their parents and siblings. There are aunts and uncles and grandparents, of course, but also teachers, friends' parents, coaches, clergy (if your family does the religious thing), a whole slew of grownups that kids are exposed to on a regular basis and I think all those people do their part to help shape kids into who they'll eventually be.
    In my life, for example, my parents definitely deserve the lion's share of the credit (or blame, I guess, depending on how you look at it). But there are a lot of other grownups who deserve some thanks (or dirty looks), too. There's the second grade teacher who got me to love reading even more than I did, my best friend's mom who was the nicest person I have ever, EVER met and who makes me try and be compassionate (even to idiots who don't deserve it ;) ), the professor who discussed privilege and how you don't know what it is unless you don't have it.
    Sorry for hijacking your comments. :)

  19. Point well taken, I agree. I could list adults in the neighborhood where I was reared and several teachers especially Mr. Demetre my 5th grade teacher at Cantara Street School in Reseda, Calif. My grandparents were a great inspiration and made me a better person. Hillary's "village" looks more like a collective farm where she sets the agenda. Boo Hiss.

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