Friday, July 04, 2008

Senator No

It was reported today that "Senator No" -- Jesse Helms -- died. I certainly won't pretend that that is sad news to me. As the Charlotte Observer said, Helms dead at 86:

[Helms] served three decades in the Senate before retiring in 2003. He was a figure seven presidents couldn't always agree with but could rarely ignore.

To admirers, Helms was a man of principle who stood for conservative values even when he stood alone. Supporters didn't always agree with him. But they knew where he stood.

Critics knew, too. To them he was a cynical manipulator who oversimplified issues, supported right-wing dictators and built a half-century career on race-baiting, polarizing politics.

His death comes months after he published a memoir in which he sought to define his legacy and soften his image. He acknowledged mistakes in his early opposition to AIDS funding but said he never advocated segregation or used race as a political wedge, a claim critics found disingenuous.
Although he later tried to deny the charges, Helms was a career bigot. As the article observes:

Helms' campaigns divided North Carolinians. He used homosexuality, school prayer, race and other “hot button” issues to separate himself from his opponents.

A 1990 ad accused Democratic opponent Gantt of taking money from gays. Another showed a pair of white hands crumpling a job rejection letter as a voice says, “You needed that job, but they had to give it to a minority.”

Analysts such as Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, called the ad “a textbook illustration of how to play on racial fears,” and said Helms “took targeted, fear-based appeals toward other groups to a new high.”

The true nature of the man is best seen in his own words. Via AmericaBlog, a few gems that give a hint of his soul:
As an aide to the 1950 Senate campaign of North Carolina Republican candidate Willis Smith, Helms reportedly helped create attack ads against Smith's opponent, including one which read: 'White people, wake up before it is too late. Do you want Negroes working beside you, your wife and your daughters, in your mills and factories? Frank Graham favors mingling of the races.' Another ad featured photographs Helms himself had doctored to illustrate the allegation that Graham's wife had danced with a black man. (The News and Observer, 8/26/01; The New Republic, 6/19/95; The Observer, 5/5/96; Hard Right: The Rise of Jesse Helms, by Ernest B. Furgurson, Norton, 1986)

* * * *
Of civil rights protests Helms wrote, "The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that's thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men's rights." (WRAL-TV commentary, 1963) He also wrote, "Crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are a fact of life which must be faced." (New York Times, 2/8/81)

* * * *
Over the years Helms has declared homosexuality "degenerate," and homosexuals "weak, morally sick wretches." (Newsweek, 12/5/94) In a tirade highlighting his routine opposition to AIDS research funding, Helms lashed out at the Kennedy-Hatch AIDS bill in 1988: "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy." (States News Service, 5/17/88)
Of course, there is also the irony in his dying on the 4th of July. I didn't think anything of it until I read this piece about Helms' death, Conservative Icon Former Senator Jesse Helms Dead At 86, which notes:
Former Sen. Jesse Helms, who built a career along the fault lines of racial politics and battled liberals, Communists and the occasional fellow Republican during 30 conservative years in Congress, died on the Fourth of July.

He was 86.

"It's just incredible that he would die on July 4, the same day of the Declaration of Independence and the same day that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died, and he certainly is a patriot in the mold of those great men," said former North Carolina GOP Rep. Bill Cobey, the chairman of The Jesse Helms Center in Wingate, N.C.

Helms died at 1:15 a.m, the center said. He died in Raleigh of natural causes, said former chief of staff Jimmy Broughton.

After reading that, it hit me. There is no way the man died on the 4th. He died before midnight & they waited awhile before saying anything. The Republicans will lie about their middle name, if given the opportunity. This is just too convenient to be true. A manipulator till the bitter end.

UPDATE (7/5): The obit for Helms in The Guardian provides a good overview of the man who, the paper notes:

To echo this newspaper's memorable comment on the death of William Randolph Hearst, it is hard even now to think of him with charity.

1 comment:

quakerdave said...

I actually owe Sen. Helms a debt of gratitude.

It's because of people like him and Ronald Reagan that I became the pissed-off person I am today.