Prejudice often speaks in a kind of code. You can’t quite put your finger on it. It doesn’t use racist labels, but instead gets the point across thematically. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz recently gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation where he said, “We need 100 more like Jesse Helms.” The message does not mention people of color, but the message is clear. Helms defeated an opponent with a famous as against racial quotas showing the white hands of someone being denied a job and then flashed back to the black face of his opponent. He went on to be one of America’s most visible opponent of civil rights.
Tim Murphy of Mother Jones writes:
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.”
Sen. Cruz has made a living opposing a path to citizenship for immigrants, so when he evokes the memory of Jesse Helms in a room full of white conservatives, his point would be clear to all who recognize the code.