Texas Sen. Ted Cruz started off his Wednesday speech on foreign policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation with a confession: His first political contribution was a $10 contribution to the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), when he was 10. Then he followed it up with a plea. "We need 100 more like Jesse Helms," he said.
That Cruz would praise Helms while delivering Heritage's annual Helms Lecture is hardly unusual. And the two do share an extreme skepticism of the international community—Helms as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Cruz as Texas' first solicitor general. But Helms, who passed away in 2008, was an emblem for more than just conservatism. At a time when Republicans—including Cruz—are emphasizing the need to broaden the party's base, the first-term lawmaker and rumored presidential candidates is embracing one of the upper chamber's most notorious bigots.
Helms is perhaps best known for his 1990 "Hands" ad, which helped push him past his Democratic challenger, African-American Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt. But Helms' proud bigotry cut much deeper, and with devastating consequences for public policy. Helms believed gays were "weak, morally sick wretches" and argued that "there is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy"—motivating factors behind his push to block funding for research into HIV at a time when the epidemic was killing tens of thousands of people in the United States alone. He described AIDS education as "so obscene, so revolting, I may throw up." Jesse Helms was a bad person in a uniquely terrible way that increased pain and suffering for countless individuals. He even opposed appointing lesbians to high-ranking government offices. (Cruz, for his part, criticized a 2012 GOP primary opponent for attending a gay pride parade.)
Helms' racism was unmatched on Capitol Hill. He got his political start by bashing interracial marriage and accusing the spouse of a political opponent of dancing with a black man. As a senator, he blasted the Civil Rights Act as "the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress" and dismissed the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill as "the University of Negroes and Communists." In 1983, he filibustered the 1983 effort to create a Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. The infamous "Hands" ad almost felt gratuitous.
And then there's this: Shortly after Carol Moseley-Braun became only the second African-American since Reconstruction to be elected to the Senate in 1993, she got an elevator with Helms and Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. Helms began singing the opening lines of "Dixie," and then he turned to Hatch: "I'm going to make her cry," Helms said. "I'm going to sing 'Dixie' until she cries."
Gun control advocates are officially on notice. On Tuesday, fueled by backlash over a sweeping gun control package that was signed into law last spring, voters in two Colorado districts voted to recall two Democratic state senators, John Morse and Angela Giron, and replace them with anti-gun-control Republicans. Morse and Giron had both supported the state's new gun safety package, which required background checks for private sales, capped magazine capacity at 15 rounds, and increased fees for gun owners. In the wake of mass shootings at Aurora and Sandy Hook, the legislation was hailed as an unprecedented victory in a notoriously pro-gun state; Tuesday's result—the first successful recall in state history—can't be viewed as anything less than a serious setback for that effort and puts even more of a premium on next fall's elections: Democrats now hold just a one-vote majority in the upper chamber.
After two other recall efforts failed to collect enough signatures, local gun rights activists targeted Giron and Morse, the senate president, despite the initial skepticism of the state's largest gun rights group. Once the recall campaign became a reality, though, the race was defined by the flood of outside money that poured into the state. The NRA, which backed the recalls from the beginning, pushed at least $362,000 toward defeating Morse and Giron, while the Koch Brothers-backed Americans For Prosperity launched a get-out-the-vote-effort. On the other side, that was nearly matched by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has pledged to spend $12 million in support of pro-gun-control politicians through his organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Monday's recalls are a blunt reminder of the power still wielded by the NRA and grassroots anti-gun-control activists. But it would be a mistake to view it solely as a referendum on gun control. Recall elections are weird—they have lower turnout; different voting demographics; and ask voters to answer a different question than a regular election does. For gun-control advocates going forward, the biggest fear isn't that background checks and maximum magazine capacities are electoral non-starters. (It certainly hasn't hurt Barack Obama in Colorado.) It's that the spigots will turn off. As Giron told the New Republic's Alec MacGillis, "For Mayors Against Illegal Guns, if they lose even one of these seats, they might as well fold it up." We'll see if Bloomberg et al. stay on course.
End times buffs have taken a special interest in the possibility of US military strikes in Syria. As I reported last week, popular evangelists and writers like Joel Rosenberg have spent much of the last five years talking up the possibility of a conflict that might fit the one outlined by Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Old Testament, in which Damascus is reduced to rubble. On Saturday, Rosenberg spoke about the Isaiah prophecy in Topeka, Kansas, at the invitation of Republican governor Sam Brownback. On Monday, he appeared on Fox News to elaborate on his views.
Rosenberg wasn't ready to definitively say that an American war in Syria—which is looking less and less likely by the day—would necessarily match the description of the Old Testament. But it was definitely a possibility. "It's impossible for us to know that yet, and I think it's wrong for people who teach Bible prophecy to try to guess, in a sense, to try to say for certain that it's going to happen now," he told host Neil Cavuto. "But you have seven million Syrians are already on the run—two million have left the country; five million are internally displaced. The Jeremiah: 49 prophecy says that people will flee, but there'll still be people in Damascus when the prophecy happens. So the bottom line is we don't know."
"Amazing," said Cavuto, when it was all over. "It's in there. It's worth a read."
The first thing members of Congress saw when they returned to work on Monday was dueling protests on Capitol Hill between supporters and opponents of a proposed military intervention in Syria. Both sides consisted largely of first- and second-generation Syrian-Americans. But only one faction went so far as to hold up Bashar al-Assad—who stands accused of using chemical weapons to kill 1,400 civilians on top of myriad other atrocities—as an emblem of peace and justice.
I spotted Hassan Mohammed, decked out in a biker glove made from a Syrian flag, a Syrian-flag sweatband, and red Abercrombie & Fitch sweatpants, and waving a six-foot-by-four-foot banner of the Assad. "He's my president, No. 1!" said Mohammed, who has dual citizenship and drove down from New York to express his support. "I voted for him in 2007. I'm going to vote for him again."
But what about his conduct during the civil war? "It's not a civil war yet," Mohammed insisted. And while civilian casualties are unavoidable in this non-civil-war, he's confident that no chemical weapons have been used by the regime—it's simply not practical. "He doesn't have to use it; he can kill the same amount of people with different weapons."
Milad Tabshi, who drove down from Pennsylvania, had a stern expression on his mustachioed face. "The Syrian regime did not commit any atrocities against the Syrian people," he said. "It's Western propaganda. It's nonsense. It's a war provoked, orchestrated by the West aimed to destroy every nation in the Middle East and take its natural resources."
Here are three additional nuggets of wisdom from Assad's defenders...
President Obama should borrow from Assad's example and think of the children:
"American tax $$$ should fund US education not Al Qaeda." Tim Murphy
Despite whatever else you may have heard, Assad is much loved:
On Tuesday, voters in two Colorado counties will determine the fates of a pair Democratic state senators who helped push through a slate of gun control legislation last spring. Senate Majority Leader John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron were targeted for recall votes by gun rights activists after supporting legislation that capped magazine capacity at 15 rounds and mandated background checks for all private gun sales. But what started as a genuine grassroots effort born out of anger over the gun vote has grown into something much bigger—a national proxy war on not just gun control but also reproductive rights. (The two Republican challengers who would take office if the recall succeeds have both taken heat for their support of the so-called "personhood" movement, which classifies zygotes as people.)
Not just gun control but reproductive rights are at issue in the Colorado Senate recall.
The results: a flood of outside money. Opponents of the recall have poured more than $2 million into the race so far, almost all of it from out of state. Leading the way is Taxpayers for Responsible Democracy, a pop-up organization that brought in almost all of its money from three sources—California philanthropist Eli Broad ($250,000); the environmental outfit Conservation Colorado ($75,000); and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who chairs a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns and gave $350,000. (In the wake of last year's school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Bloomberg pledged to spend $12 million in support of pro-gun control candidates.) Another outfit, We Can Do Better, Colorado, serves as a local front for the DC-based Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which has poured $300,000 into the race.