Ding-Dong, Jesse Helms is Dead

First Jerry Falwell, now Jesse Helms. One by one, the famous bigots of America are contributing their best (and last) service to this nation’s progress -- they’re dying. 

BY Choire Sicha

July 30 2008 12:00 AM ET

Jesse Helms as Witch -- smaller (Tom Nick Cocotos) | Advocate.com

Other
“threats” are bush league. Heads of
megachurches or honchos of right-leaning media empires
may oppose gay marriage, but they’re not
exactly voting against funding for AIDS drug therapies or
legislating to prevent gays from adopting children.
James Dobson, 72, of Focus on the Family and Family
Research Council fame, might believe gays have a
“sickness” that can be “cured,”
but his Christian doctrine forces him to profess love
for everyone. And in the case of Rupert Murdoch (77!) and
the rest of the cultural and conservative elite, well,
they’re having dinner with gays nearly every
night.

Frequent
presidential candidate Alan Keyes is a harmless wing nut.
Perennial office-seeker Pat Buchanan once seemed
threatening, but he got just 0.4% of the vote in the
2000 presidential election. Plus he’ll be 70
soon.

As New York
University’s Patrick J. Egan and Hunter
College’s Kenneth Sherrill wrote in 2005 in
Public Opinion Pros, “Older, colder
Americans are being replaced by citizens who express more
warmth for gay people.” Their research showed
that from the 1980s to the ’90s, the proportion
of people who said they had a gay acquaintance or close
friend more than doubled, from one in five to a
majority.

Today, we live
and politick with a new generation of voters—average
people with gay cousins or coworkers who just can’t
view gays as some alien army of perverts -- and they
will make their mark in this year’s election,
on local, state, and national levels. This is the great gay
hope of California, where an initiative on the ballot this
November threatens to make marriage equality
unconstitutional. Without a charismatic national
leader or legislator (the unlovely folks behind the
Protect Marriage operation don’t have the talent),
there’s no one to rile the masses against the
imaginary lavender menace.

Not that there
won’t be a dark surprise. The satellite radios and
the 10,000 channels on TV and the wide-open Internet
all need hot air to bring in consumers. The easiest
path to attention is manufactured outrage. And swaths
of America -- those not really overlapping audiences
who tune in to Dobson’s Christian radio show and
Savage’s outrages -- still love to be grossed
out by the dirty gays, the frightening Mexicans, and
the immoral urbanites. A new demagogue may yet emerge--but
will he be as scary, as powerful, as Helms once was?
Not likely.

Tags: Politics

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