Ezra Klein is right about this...
Like Matt, I'm a bit surprised to see conservatives heaping praise on Jesse Helms. Helms was an awful bigot with a secondary interest in destroying international institutions and increasing tobacco subsidies. ...
When leading exemplars of your political tradition were trying to preserve segregation less than four decades ago, it's a bit hard to argue that your party, which is now electorally based in the American South, is really rooted in a cautious empiricism and an acute concern for the deadweight losses associated with taxation.
That project would really benefit, however, if more of them would step forward and say that Helms marred the history of their movement and left decent people ashamed to call themselves conservative.
As Max Boot writes at Commentary, Jesse Helms may have done some good things, but "we should not gloss over the repugnant aspects of his record. Helms began his career as a segregationist, and he never really repented."
Many allegations of racism are just exaggerations and political pot-stirring. Not all of them, though. When news came out of Ron Paul's dalliances with racist newsletters, many libertarians rejected him. William F. Buckley famously renounced the hysterical John Birch Society and, indeed, even some of his own past work.
Why many people who I genuinely do not believe to be racist have been unwilling to do the same to Jesse Helms, I'm not sure. It is troubling, though.