"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


land of the free

I was sleeping in this morning when my phone buzzed with a text message from the Lobbyist for the Dark Side: "Your old boss died."

I only have one old boss who's famous enough that his death would make news. Doesn't it figure that Jesse Helms would die on the 4th of July? It's somehow fitting for a man who titled his autobiography with a line from the fourth verse of the Star Spangled Banner.

How it was that I came to be an intern for the committee chaired by a person with whose views I vehemently disagree and repudiate is a long story involving a Tennessee Supreme Court justice with whom my daddy used to jog at lunch and an aide to a former Senate majority leader. Working for Helms was one of the worst experiences of my life in many respects. It's there that I learned that I am incapable of working for causes in which I don't believe, a discovery that had a large role in my decision to become an academic rather than a diplomat.

It's disrespectful to knock someone who has died and rude to his family to say negative things about a person they loved. Helms was, if nothing else, consistent in his views. In his later years, he realized (with, of all people, Bono's help) that he needed to be more compassionate to those living with HIV/AIDS, especially to children in Africa who contracted the disease through no actions of their own.

But look, Helms was a racist. There's no way around it. He became a Republican because of the Civil Rights Movement. He sang "Dixie" to Carole Moseley-Braun in an elevator - in 1993. He filibustered making Martin Luther King, Jr. Day a national holiday. He forged close friendships with white supremicist southern Africans like Ian Smith that were based slightly on the fact that both came from tobacco-growing corners, but mostly on their racist views of blacks. He played racial politics with the best of them, and his staff had no problem making racist jokes on a frequent basis - even when those jokes were directed at minority members of the staff. (I spent most of my summer at the committee with my jaw dropped to the floor in disbelief that such things could be said in what was supposed to be polite company.) And, unlike Strom Thurmond, he didn't seem to change his views of race over time. Attitudes like that probably kept a good portion of Helms' constituents voting for him, but that doesn't make it right.

I'm sorry for Dot and her family that they have lost their husband, father, and grandfather today. But our country is better off without the divisive and cruel policies of someone who understood far too late that the tide in our country has turned.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Helms was also homophobic and anti-woman. He filibustered the ERA. (In fact, he filibustered so much progressive legislation that he was known as "Senator No."

He was a jingoistic nationalist whose anti-UN ravings make those of John Bolton look timid. He helped chart the way for the horrid politics of Ronald Reagan and then for the rise of Neo-cons.

And, before he was a Senator, he was a rightwing radio broadcaster, paving the way for today's gross lineup of Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, O'Reilly, Michael Savage, etc. The pollution of our airwaves with such tripe didn't begin with Helms, but he arguably helped make it profitable.

I agree with you that no one should rejoice that someone has died. But I did rejoice when Helms' political career ended and I hope that his passing, now, shows that NC and the entire South is moving into a new era.

Saturday, July 05, 2008 6:50:00 AM

Blogger Michael said...


I think you're giving him a little too much credit. You basically gave him credit for Ronald Reagan, Neo-cons, hatred of the U.N., and right-winged radio.

I understand that you hate the guy, but let's not blame him for everything you despise.

And God bless Ronald Reagan! ;)

Saturday, July 05, 2008 9:24:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Michael in Lubbock, I won't wade into this, but there's definitely an argument to be made that Reagan wouldn't have had so much political success were it not for Helms' support. Helms supported Reagan in '76, which set him up for the run in '80, and there's no question that Helms' support was critical for giving Reagan credibility among conservatives.

The best part about all of this was that Helms wouldn't disagree one bit with MWW's characterization here. He wouldn't have used the same adjectives, but he was proud of being Senator No. I have a 2001calendar his staff produced of all the negative political cartoons made about Helms - he LOVED those cartoons and how the cartoonists had exactly pegged what he believed in.

Saturday, July 05, 2008 10:13:00 AM

Blogger Charlie Mac said...

I may get black listed on this site, but Helms was a good Senator.
Maybe some think he brought about the rise of those mentioned in the above comments. I believe that many of us were just as responsible because we agreed with him on so many of his issues. Sure was he off base at times, but not all the time for sure. Not even most of the time. There are not many senators today who will stand up and stick to their beliefs day after day.

"I voted for the war before I voter for the war before I voted against it." "Present". "America is no longer a Christian nation."
That is not the pastor I knew for 20+ years.

Jesse may have voted no, but he stuck to his no. I wish we had more senators and representatives today who had actual beliefs and standards rather than personal political agendas.

I grew up before all the liberal social programs were put in place. Everybody took care of themselves and their neighbors. I do not remember that one student was arrested in the whole county all the way through school from first grade to graduation 12 years later. Last year alone there were 1100+ students arrested in Mobile public schools per today's Mobile Press Register. Conservsatism worked in the past, socialism (liberalism) has failed in the present, so what is the politicians fix, throw more money at it. They are going to institute a counseling program for "troubled" students here.
I rest my case.
Charlie Mac

Saturday, July 05, 2008 5:12:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't hate Sen. Helms. I never met him. When I saw him on TV, I considered him sad. He did often make me angry, but so did politicians who actually represented states I lived in, so I tended to reserve my real anger for them. (And I don't even hate Mitch McConnell.)

As for the claim that Helms helped launch Reagan's presidency, that was made by many people and reported on the BBC.

I considered Helms a dinosaur--a throwback to the segregated South, like his friend Strom Thurmond (R-SC) from his neighbor state. They both carried into the late 20th C. the image and values (including the racism, sexism, homophobia, militaristic nationalism--which is different from respect for the armed forces, hatred of the poor, hatred of other nations, hatred of unions, etc. of such bygone (and good riddance) icons of intolerance as Sen. James Eastland (D-MS), and Gov. George Wallace (D/I-AL), except the latter repented after his near assassination. Helms was like David Duke, but slicker, like Trent Lott (R-MS). He was a secular version of Jerry Falwell.

The end of his career and influence should be celebrated. The end of his life should not--but I cannot find it in my heart to mourn.

I have spent my whole life (1962-) trying to convince people that there is another side to the South--that Helms and his ilk do not speak for all or us. He was a deep weight on progress for the South and the nation--and a dangerous demagogue.

One day, TiA, you are going to have to explain to me how someone as bright and dedicated to the common good as you are ever ended up as an intern for Sen. No.

Saturday, July 05, 2008 11:18:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Mac, I don't ban anybody from the site who isn't using profanity or being incredibly rude. Of course it's your perogative to think Helms was a great Senator, and to be clear, I think he represented his consituents well. I just disagree with most of his policies, and, in particular, his views on race.

Also, I don't think it's fair or accurate to compare American liberalism with socialism. Socialism advocates for state ownership of a planned economy, and often uses physical repression to enforce state control. That's very different from believing that higher rates of taxation can contribute to the common good by ensuring that every citizen has a minimally decent standard of living.

I do agree with you that if churches and families did the work of taking care of one another, we wouldn't need government to do so much. But people seem to be pretty selfish, and churches seem to be pretty wrapped up in themselves nowadays. I don't think children should have to suffer because of our sin.

Monday, July 07, 2008 10:46:00 AM


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