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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Jesse Helms, March 8, 1974. Interview A-0124. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Watergate overshadows moral morass of the 1960s

Helms downplays the effects of Watergate on conservatism and disowns Nixon as a conservative. He thinks that the furor surrounding the scandal obscured some of the real corruption of the era, in the form of the anti-war movement and John F. Kennedy. He reveals a good deal of distaste for Daniel Ellsberg and "the bums who were spitting on the American flag."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Jesse Helms, March 8, 1974. Interview A-0124. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

What do you think has been the effect of Watergate on the conservative cause?
I think that Watergate has had no effect on the conservative cause, except in, perhaps, as frustrated individual conservatives, who realize that Richard Nixon is a symbol of conservativism, while not being a conservative.
I don't want to get into Watergate in any detail, for obvious reasons, at this time, but what effect do you think it will have on the development of the Republican party in North Carolina and the South?
Well, I don't know. In a case like that it's highly theoretical at best. Our gain, I think, it depends on how many Republicans are willing to exert the energy to do the necessary work in standing up for things that really matter. There are two sides to this Watergate thing. The passage of time has obscured public awareness of the frame of reference for Watergate. I expect that if Mr. Nixon, in the fall of '72, or whenever it was, the publicity was mushrooming, began to mushroom about Watergate. If he had stepped forward and said, "Yes, we tried to find out about Ellsberg, because Ellsberg is a thief. He was perfectly willing to be a traitor." I think that, instead of condemning the burglary, that the American people, right or wrong, would have cheered. People have forgotten, now, that a bomb went off in the capitol over here, and blew out the window of the dining room, that the cracks are still in. They have forgotten the burning campuses and the mobs in the streets, and the bums who were spitting on the American flag. Now, if the Republicans should all of a sudden decide to say, "Now, wait a minute. I don't like burg . . . bugging and burglary any more than you do. But let's put this thing in perspective." And I think, also, that the Republicans ought to make the American people aware that the United States Senate - and you can go to the record and look at it - that the United States Senate overtly refused to examine any corruption in politics except that one year. We tried to get an overall picture of it, so that the purpose of the Committee, as I understand the way these things operate - and that is to see if further legislation is needed - that's the only excuse for a congressional committee, by the way . . . To see whether we ought to take care that there is not a repeat performance of Bobby Kennedy, who tapped the telephones of everybody in sight, including 38 senators of the United States. But you never read about that. The Republicans . . . the Watergate crowd, I dis-associate the Republican party from the Committee to Re-elect. And I don't do that as a matter of convenience. I think it's a fact, because the Republican National Committee had no idea what was going on. There's plenty of evidence for that. But I think it's time the Republicans put this thing in perspective, not only as to the prevailing conditions at the time it happened, but let's see who else has been doing it. And collect the whole smelly mess of American politics. But, no, the Ervin Committee was set up for the one purpose of dragging through this 1972 campaign, period. Not a thing was said about the Democratic primary - presidential primary of '72, when all sorts of dirty tricks went on. Not a thing was said about Jack Kennedy buying the vote in West Virginia in 1960. Hubert Humphrey would be a good witness on that. Not a thing was said about the libels and slanders about Goldwater in '64. Who did that? Did Ehrlichman do it? Haldeman? I'm not defending Ehrlichman and Haldeman. I scarcely even know them. But Barry Goldwater was libeled and slandered from one end of this country to the other, but oh, no. We won't look into that. We will just confine ourselves to that poor little sweet Ellsberg, whose only crime was willingness to sell out his country and to steal documents from the government of the United States and turn them over to an irresponsible New York Times. If that's too harsh, so be it.