In the 1960s, there were limited opportunities available when choosing which group to hate. We knew about blacks, (known then as colored people), Jews, (but they were often hard to pick out), and of course communists/socialists, (whatever they are). There were no Asians of any sort, no Indians, no Arabs and of course, no gays - they didn't exist back then. The "coloreds" were the only game in town, pretty much the only game in the country and politicians made the most of it.
By the early 60s, inspirational leaders such as Governor George Wallace of Alabama made speeches such as his famous: "I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever. " This was spoken while attempting to block the desegregation of the University of Alabama in 1962. Wallace was extremely popular, serving as governor for 4 terms and running for President 4 times. Wallace claimed that he was not a racist, he was a segregationist, a distinction without a difference.
There were other charismatic leaders such as Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina who was the oldest and longest serving senator in U.S. history. He stepped down after 49 years of service at the age of 100. Thurmond set another record for longevity, he conducted the longest filibuster ever by an individual, over 24 hours, to defeat the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
Their attempts to block social progress ultimately failed when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It didn't end racism in the United States, but it was a major step in outlawing institutionalized discrimination based on race and gender.
In the late 1970s, Wallace declared that he was a born again Christian. He apologized to black civil rights leaders for the segregationist views he had built his political career on. He said that while he had once sought power and glory, he realized he needed to seek love and forgiveness. Thinking back to his blocking of the school door, Wallace said: "I was wrong. Those days are over and they ought to be over." During his final term as Governor, from 1983-1987, he appointed a record number of blacks to government positions in Alabama.
Senator Thurmond was not apologetic about his past, however, he voted for extending the Voting Rights Act, making Martin Luther King Day a Federal Holiday and he appointed the first black man to his staff in 1971. This was the first such appointment by any Senator from the south. The biggest surprise was revealed after Thurmond's death. He had fathered a daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, whose mother was black and worked as a maid in the Thurmond household. She was only 16 years old when the 22 year old Strom got her pregnant. He provided financial support for Essie Mae throughout her life, including paying for her college.
Jesse Helms, is considered by many as the father of the modern conservative movement. He served as Senator from North Carolina from 1973-2003. This was a time of great social/cultural expansion in the United States. There was an influx of Asians, Indians and gays aggressively came out of the closet. Helms was a man ahead of his time. He saw opportunity and seized it, expanding the opportunities for hatred on all fronts which are with us to this day.
He, like today's revered pundit Glenn Beck, began by giving his editorial views on television, creating a small but rabid following. He stayed on television until he won his Senate seat in 1972. Helms thought that the civil rights movement was filled with communists, moral degenerates and he hated the liberal news media. Even before his modern day Republican counterparts, he was proudly known as "Senator No" for his uncompromising ability in trying to block any legislation he did not support which included anything to do with civil rights, gay rights, women's rights, the United Nations and nuclear disarmament. He conducted a 16 day filibuster attempting to block the institution of Martin Luther King Day. He failed.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, once again demonstrated his keen insight into the political consciousness. In his eulogy for Helms, who died on the Fourth of July 2008, he stated that "Senator Helms was certainly no bigot." During his political career Helms voted against every piece of civil rights legislation that came across his desk. Helms considered the Civil Rights Act "the most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced into the Congress."
At least Helms was consistent and considered a gentleman even by his opponents, unlike today's pundits and politicians that he paved the way for.
Mitt Romney is now attacking the Healthcare Reform Act as if it was alien to him, except that it is quite similar to the bill he championed and got passed in Massachusetts.
Senator John McCain warned the White House, "There will be no (GOP) cooperation for the rest of the year". Considering there had been none during the previous part of the year, this didn't represent any change we could believe in.
Rush Limbaugh promised to leave the country for Costa Rica, (which ironically has a single payer healthcare system), if reform was passed. Now Limbaugh has the chance to prove that he is a man of his word.
House Minority Leader, John Boehner, did everything to block health care reform, including constant hailstorms of misinformation and fear mongering, calling it: "Armageddon...it will ruin our country". He however lacked the eloquence and charisma to be convincing - not to mention the facts.
Facts never get in the way of Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina. He said of health care reform, "It must be repealed...it will force taxpayers to fund abortions and impose unconstitutional mandates on all Americans".
The Health Care Reform Act has become the most dangerous piece of legislation ever, destined to destroy our country; replacing the Civil Rights Act as the most dangerous, which replaced Medicare, which replaced Social Security, which replaced the Women's Right to Vote, you get the idea.
As we've all been told over the past few weeks, President Obama was "ramming or shoving or forcing health care reform" down our throats. The bill won with a majority of votes in the House and the Senate. Although majority rule seems to be our form of government, it only seems to apply when the side you are on wins.
What is upsetting to those who follow in the giant footsteps of Thurmond, Wallace and Helms is that this bill was championed by a Black President, with the help of the first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, supported by many Democratic Senators, including gay ones such as Barney Frank and Black ones such as Congressman John Lewis. Fine Americans exercised their First Amendment right to freedom of speech by spitting on them, yelling "Faggot" and "Nigge.r. Among those fine Americans are elected officials such as Texas Congressman Randy Neugebauer who yelled "Baby killer" at anti-abortionist Bart Stupak, Congressman from Michigan. In the era of Thurmond, Wallace and Helms, there was no internet and no twitter to create instant political celebrities.
The irony is that President Obama and Senator Helms share some common beliefs. Both saw America as a land of opportunity. It was Senator Helms who said he'd rather lose an election than abandon his principles. It was President Obama, quoting Abraham Lincoln, who said, "I am not bound to win but I am bound to be true." Both were referring to their core beliefs, the reason they became politicians, their commitment to what they believed in and what they were elected to do. The principles that Helms stood for were bigotry, hatred and fear. Obama passed health care reform, something both Republicans and Democrats have tried to do for decades. One expanded the opportunity to hate. The other expanded opportunity.