The raving bigot from North Carolina retires
by LANCE SELFA | August 31, 2001 | Page 2
WASHINGTON--The only better outcome would be his timely death. In August, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) announced that he'll retire when his term ends in 2003.
Like that other Senate dinosaur, South Carolina's Strom Thurmond, Helms is a throwback to the segregationist politics of the Jim Crow South.
He got his start in politics in 1950, when he managed the Senate campaign of segregationist Willis Smith. Helms personally doctored a photo to show the wife of Smith's opponent's dancing with a Black man.
Throughout the 1960s, Helms appeared as a TV commentator on Raleigh station WRAL, regularly denouncing Martin Luther King, "Negro hoodlums" and "welfare bums."
A U.S. senator since 1972, Helms often stood alone to block legislation or appointments because of one right-wing peeve or another. He forced cuts in federal arts funding by objecting that National Endowment for the Arts projects furthered "the homosexual agenda."
He regularly denounced foreign aid to poor countries as good money thrown down "foreign rat holes."
But he never met a military boondoggle or right-wing dictator he didn't like. He once complimented Salvadoran death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson--a Hitler lover and organizer of the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero--as "a free enterprise man and deeply religious."
But the core of Helms' politics remained vicious racism. In his 1990 Senate campaign against Black Democrat Harvey Gantt, he used an anti-affirmative action TV ad showing white hands tearing up an employment application--because the "job had to go to a minority."
In 1993, when Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.)--the only Black woman to serve in the U.S. Senate--opposed a federal charter for the Daughters of the Confederacy, Helms said he would whistle the Confederate anthem "Dixie" to her "until she cries."
After his retirement announcement, members of the political establishment--from President Bush to Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.)--lined up to praise Helms. That these people could have anything positive to say about Helms is an indictment of them.
A C-Span viewer said it best in an e-mail to the network: "I have only two words to sum up Jesse Helms' career. Good riddance."