Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Hating or Not Hating Jesse Helms

In my days as a freelance news reporter, I once shared a car with the late Sen. Jesse Helms and two or three other news people. We rode from one news event to the next in central Raleigh, perhaps a dozen blocks. In that time, the senator was courteous, didn't swear at any of us or try to hog up more than his share of space in the backseat. Getting out at the downtown Holiday Inn, he said a very pleasant thank you for the ride.

A lot of people say they admired the notoriously right-wing and anti-integration senator because he had nice manners and stood by his positions however wrong.

But decent manners and loyalty to injustice are likely qualities of many of the world's worst dictators. His courtesy was not enough to make me admire him. As he swung his long legs around to get out of the car, I could only look at him in morbid fascination, the same way I like to look from a safe distance at snakes and murderers.

The fact that throughout his career he stuck to his dreadful politics--this should make him better somehow? I don't follow the logic.

I'm certainly in favor of forgiveness and have never spent any energy hating Helms. (Though I'm close to finishing a novel about a notorious right-wing racist Southern senator named Billy, who is charming and seductive as well as famously inflexible.)

I do understand friendship and love that transcend politics. I covered the NC legislature for 11 years and care very much about more than one person who has opposed my interests.

So what if I'd worked around Helms regularly, spent more time with him? Would I have been swayed by his personal manner to acting as if his actions and philosophy on race were not so bad?

Ideally, I could like somebody without being moved in the slightest toward supporting their destructive behavior, either in my voting or in my writing. Not easy. Not even easy to monitor in one's self. But it's what we have to aim for, I'm convinced, to actually achieve justice. It won't come from dividing people into categories of good and bad.

I do know I admire anyone who can maintain such a balance of opposing the injustice and still behaving decently to, even drinking coffee with, the unjust. I consider that bold.

If you like this post, please bookmark it on, share it on StumbleUpon, vote for it on Digg. Thanks so much.

No comments: