Goodbye, Jesse Helms, and Good Riddance

Former Senator Jesse Helms (R, North Carolina) died yesterday and the nation won't be worse off without him. Helms was as far-right as you get in American politics & his 21 years in the Senate (ending in 2001) were full of completely asinine bullshit that should embarrass anyone identifying as a Republican. Known as Senator No, because he was so fond of opposing Democratic legislation & presidential appointments, Helms wasn't exactly a progressive figure and was considered one of the last Old South politicians in Washington. News outlets are quick to remember the man as a "champion of Conservative values" and a "controversial political figure", but these phrases suggest the guy was a misunderstood political underdog instead of a homophobic, racist, sexist, cold-hearted prick that used his power to fuck over slews of people. The White House called him a "great public servant and a true patriot," but I think it's best if we take a second to recall the "high points" of his political career, before doling out such accolades:

* He was behind the move to stop paying dues to the United Nations in 1994, because the Senator thought the organization was too vocal about U.S. foreign policy. As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was able to implement anti-UN policies with ease and cut funding to Third World nations by 30%. He refused to ratify the Kyoto treaty, the international land mine treaty, and several other international accords plus he opposed the international criminal court making him a prime example of American isolationism.

* He co-sponsored the Helms-Burton bill that tried to levy U.S. sanctions on non-American companies that did business with Fidel Castro's Cuba & successfully started the current embargo.

* He was the tobacco industry's biggest advocate in Congress (since N. Carolina's agricultural economy is heavily reliant on tobacco production & Big Tobacco kept Helms political coffers full of campaign donations). He chaired the Agriculture Committee & used the position to advance Big Tobacco agendas.

* He opposed the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. day in 1983, citing two associates of King's that had communist ties as a reason. He led the opposition to the bill in Congress & openly dissed the civil rights leader for his alleged infidelity.

* He supported El Salvador's ruthless military leader, Major Roberto D'Aubuisson Arrieta, who's Death Squads killed thousands of Salvadorians between 1980 & 1985. After evidence that the Death Squads committed thousands of civilian murders became public, Helms said "[a]ll I know, is that D'Aubuisson is a free enterprise man and deeply religious". Helms never revoked his support for D'Aubuisson or condemned his actions.

* He was an ardent supporter of Chile's former dictator, Augusto Pinochet. After visiting Chile in 1986, Helms returned to Washington and assured the American people that it was a "myth that human rights is a major problem in Chile," even though his visit corresponded with one of the grisliest milestones of Chile's struggle against dictatorship, an incident that came to be known as The Burned Ones. A Chilean army squadron had attacked two pro-democracy teens in Santiago with rifle butts, the female teen was sodomized by a soldier, then the pair was doused in gasoline & lit on fire with the help of a Molotov cocktail. One of the kids survived & plenty of witnesses backed up her version of events. Pinochet attempted to pin the fault for the burnings on the teens themselves and the day that he announced his accusations to the nation, he met with Jesse Helms for a two-hour pow-wow. Helms pushed Pinochet's version of what happened whenever possible & berated an American ambassador for attending the murdered teen's funeral. Read more HERE. 

* He supported Haiti's military dictator Raoul Cedras during his bloody reign between 1991 and 1994 & helped to pen the agreement that convinced Cedras to step down in exchange for $1 million in American tax dollars.

* He was a supporter of South Africa's apartheid government & was unsurprisingly one of the biggest segregationists in our own country. Originally a Democrat, Helms abandoned the party with other Dixie-crats over it's support for civil rights legislation. When Nelson Mandela addressed Congress in 1990, Helms stayed away in protest.

* Helms opposed funding AIDS research or treatment programs ever since the idea was first discussed in the Senate. He claimed "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy" (as if that meant that people deserved to die!). He failed to block the 1990 passage of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Care (CARE) act, but tried to block it's refunding in 1995 by once again blaming AIDS patients for their condition. He said their "deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct" brought on the disease.

* Anti-gay rhetoric was a Jesse Helms specialty & he actually referred to homosexuality as "degenerate" and homosexuals as "weak, morally sick wretches". He opposed Clinton's nomination of Roberta Achtenberg to the Housing & Urban Development department "because she is a damn lesbian".

* Helm's had the balls to make the following comment about President Clinton in 1994 (on the anniversary of JFK's assassination, no less): "[he] better not show up around here [Fort Bragg] without a bodyguard". In his own defense, the Senator insisted that Clinton was too unpopular to inspire an assassination attempt, so the statement shouldn't be considered a threat.

* Introduced the bill that would have eliminated all affirmative action programs because he believed them to be "reverse discrimination at the hands of ruthless bureaucrats."

* He created the North Carolina Congressional Club, a political action committee that quickly became the nation's most successful moneymaking machine, and used the PAC to fund his campaigns. In 1986, the PAC was penalized $10,000 for illegally subsidizing his 1984 re-election campaign. In 1994, the Federal Election Commission levied a fine of $25,000 against Helms & his PAC for accepting $700,000 in illegal contributions. Even more jaw-dropping, in 1992, the Helms campaign and the Congressional Club settled a Justice Department complaint over a pre-election mailing of postcards falsely threatening 125,000 black voters with jail if they went to the polls. Eventually, Helms was forced to cut off ties with the Club after '94, because it endangered his chance at re-election.

* He got into hot water when he offended the shit out of Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, the first African-American woman elected to the Senate, by whistling "Dixie" while standing next to her in an elevator in 1993. He then bragged his aides & staff: "I'm going to make her cry. I'm going to sing Dixie until she cries."

* Helms would win an election against black opponent Harvey Gantt with an 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."

* Helms got away with saying some seriously offensive shit on the Senate floor. According to the late Senator, The University of North Carolina was "the University of Negroes and Communists" and black civil rights activists were "Communists and sex perverts". When 10 female members of the House of Representatives interrupted a Senate committee hearing to demand support for the UN's treaty against gender discrimination, Helms responded by telling them to "act like ladies" & had Capitol police remove them from the hearing. When talking about civil rights protests in 1963, Helms had this to say: "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."

* In 1995, Helms was a guest on CNN's Larry King Show & a caller praised Helms for "everything you've done to help keep down the niggers," and the Senator responded with a salute to the camera and saying "Well, thank you, I think."

* He opposed abortion rights and school bussing, funding for art or historical preservation, feminism, communism, and just about any other -ism you'd expect a backwoods redneck to disagree with. Helms supported the flag burning amendment & was all gung-ho on the Terri Schaivo situation, was pro-gun and until public use of the N-word became completely unacceptable, Helms threw the term about willy-nilly.

"I've been portrayed as a caveman by some. That's not true. I'm a conservative progressive, and that means I think all men are equal, be they slants, beaners, or niggers."     -Quoted in the North Carolina Progressive on 2/6/1985


"I’m so old-fashioned I believe in horse whipping"    - quoted in The News & Observer from a debate in 1991 about AIDS funding

"To rob the Negro of his reputation of thinking through a problem in his own fashion is about the same as trying to pretend that he doesn't have a natural instinct for rhythm and for singing and dancing." — Helms responding in 1956 to criticism that a fictional black character in his newspaper column was offensive.


President Bush calls Helms a "great public servant and true patriot", but it seems pretty clear to me that he was a relic of the Cold War era mind set that believed the only "public" worth serving was the Christian, heterosexual, male, white, U.S. natives that agree with American colonialism and cultural hegemony. R.I.P., mother-fucker.

1 comment:

  1. The late senator deserves a fitting memorial. See