The Great Society, Vietnam, and Conservative Solutions
In the years after President Johnson’s 1964 landslide election, white voters in eastern North Carolina and the rest of the South grew disenchanted with liberalism. Helms recognized that racial backlash and the unpopular Vietnam War presented conservatives with their best opportunities in a generation. Helms’s pious incitement proved central to Republican victories in 1966 and 1968. The issues that most upset Helms allowed him to make the case against Democrats. He stoked viewer unease over black voters, the Great Society (especially the War on Poverty), the Watts riot, the black power movement, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, leftism at the University of North Carolina, and the sexual revolution. He defended literacy tests and portrayed African Americans as menacing. He transformed traditional U.S. isolationism into a rejection of cooperation and compromise with other nations. Helms, though, did not just criticize liberal efforts. He advocated the values of the small-town South as a conservative alternative. He played a role in building private schools and charities and proposed a private affirmative action plan. Helms’s solutions would leave local elites in control and keep out the federal government. Change in race relations would occur slowly if at all.
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