Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Ding Dong, Jesse's Dead
I was always taught to not speak ill of the dead, and it seems that that is the norm in our society. Often times when people die their obits point out their positives, disregard their negatives, and in many cases, flat out lie to make their lives seem more noble than they actually were. This is definitely the case with Jesse Helms, as media outlets downplay his true legacy of Old Southern-style racism in the wake of his death.
Helms, the senator from North Carolina, died on July 4. He served for 5 terms as North Carolina's senator for over 30 years until he retired in 2003. Given his well-known reputation as a bigot, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who openly admits to voting for him, but his support from those voters of the Old South kept him in Washington for many years, proving that old ways die hard.
The above clip is one of Helms' most famous acts of race-baiting on the campaign trail. In 1990, black Democrat Harvey Gantt challenged Helms' Senate seat and built a healthy lead in the polls leading up to election day. After the infamous "White Hands" ad, the polls shifted and Helms won convincingly.
Even in death, I have no respect for this man. With the possible exception of Strom Thurmond, Helms is easily the most racist and divisive figure in modern American politics. In addition to being the only senator to oppose the MLK Holiday, he was consistently the lone dissenting voice on a plethora of civil rights bi-partisan legislation that have strengthened race and gender relations.
Here are just a few of Helms despicable moments as written by Washington Post writer David Broder:
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)
Ancient history? No. Helms remains unapologetic to this day. Forty years after the Smith campaign, Helms would win election against black opponent Harvey Gantt with another ad playing to racist white fear-- the so-called "white hands" ad, in which a white man's hands crumple a rejected job application while a voiceover intones, "You needed that job…but they had to give it to a minority."
In columns, commentaries and pronouncements from the Senate floor, Helms sowed hatred and called names: The University of North Carolina was "the University of Negroes and Communists." (Capital Times, 11/22/94) Black civil rights activists were "Communists and sex perverts." (Copley News Service, 8/23/01)
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)
Helms remonstrated ten female members of the House of Representatives to "act like ladies" when they interrupted a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to demand support of a U.N. treaty against gender discrimination, and subsequently had them removed from the hearing by Capitol police. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 10/28/99)
And the man ABC News now describes as a "conservative icon" (8/22/01) in 1993 sang "Dixie" in an elevator to Carol Moseley-Braun, the first African-American woman elected to the Senate, bragging, "I'm going to make her cry. I'm going to sing Dixie until she cries." (Chicago Sun-Times, 8/5/93)
More recently, when a caller to CNN's Larry King Live show praised guest Jesse Helms for "everything you've done to help keep down the niggers," Helms' response was to salute the camera and say, "Well, thank you, I think." (Wilmington Star-News, 9/16/95)
Finally, Helms' strong if sometimes shadowy support for violent, anti-democratic forces abroad, from South Africa to El Salvador, might have given media outlets further pause in describing him as a mere conservative; few probed his ties to groups that would more accurately be described as fascist. One exception was an editorial in the Boston Globe (8/23/01): "Helms' role in supporting foreign thugs such as Roberto D'Aubuisson, the cashiered Salvadoran major who ran death squads responsible for savage political murders, did lasting harm to America's good name. In South Africa, Argentina, Mozambique, Honduras, and Nicaragua, Helms cooperated with racists and fascists who have nothing in common with the ideals of American democracy."
Even after all those instances of blatant racism, sexism, homophobia and intolerance, Helms asserted that he was no racist:
"I am not a racist, nor am I a bigot. You can ask any Black that knows me and they'll tell you I'm not a racist!"
Wow... The world seems to have gotten a little bit brighter.