This morning, I learned that America is celebrating its independence from one of the politicians whose goal was to ensure that this country was a colder, meaner-spirited place for millions of its citizens to live; a former senator of North Carolina, Jesse Helms. A lot of people called him “Senator No”, although I (and no doubt others) thought of him as “Senator Hate.”
How should we remember a right-wing religious control freak who has caused so much grief to so many people during his 52-year political career? Well, I certainly do not want to speak ill of the dead, so I will let Jesse speak ill of himself — so here is Jesse Helms in his own words and actions;
- He hated the poor who lived overseas and introduced amendments to reduce or eliminate funds for foreign aid because he claimed it was ‘throwing money down foreign rat holes.’ Helms was also a hypocrite: despite his professed passion for not using American military to “fight foreign wars,” he did support the use of military force against Iraq.
- He hated the poor in America and introduced amendments to reduce or eliminate welfare programs, which he also described as ‘pouring money down a rat hole’. Helms once described Medicaid as a “step over into the swampy field of socialized medicine” (as if that’s a bad thing). He advocated forcing the poor, the hungry and the homeless to look to local churches to meet their needs instead of to their government, which most of them paid taxes to. “Nobody would have thought of turning to the government to solve all our problems,” Helms declared during an interview in 1984. “A lot of human beings have been born bums,” he said another time. “The more we remove penalties for being a bum, the more bum-ism is going to blossom.” Yet he was a staunch hypocrite: Helms voted against increasing the minimum wage (thereby increasing the likelihood of “bumism”, and supported tightening rules for declaring personal bankruptcy (ditto).
- He hated the hungry in America by vigorously attacking the food stamps program.
- He also hated old people, claiming that social security benefits were “nothing more than doles and handouts.” Helms also voted against including prescription drugs under Medicare.
- He loved his tobacco farmers — further adding to his hypocrisy — even though they are the cause of millions of cancer and emphysema deaths around the world, and he fiercely protected tobacco’s federal subsidies (government “doles and handouts”) despite pressure from anti-smoking groups. He also voted against increasing tobacco restrictions, so even nonsmokers could enjoy the pleasures of dying from lung cancer or emphysema.
- He was an enemy of the arts, describing them as “blasphemous and degenerate,” and introduced amendments to reduce or eliminate funding for the arts. “If people want to go into a men’s room and write dirty words on the wall, let them furnish their own crayons,” he once said. “Let them furnish their own wall. Don’t ask the taxpayers to support it.”
- He hated GLBT people. Helms voted against expanding the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation, against expanding the definition of job discrimination to sexual orientation and voted against same-sex marriages. “Nothing positive happened to Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said, “and nothing positive is likely to happen to America if our people succumb to the drumbeats of support for the homosexual lifestyle.”
- He hated people with AIDS, erroneously claiming that “there is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy.” [Helms eventually saw the light regarding HIV/AIDS overseas in 2002 because Africans obtained HIV infections through heterosexual contact. He then advocated greater federal funding to fight the disease in Africa and elsewhere overseas].
- He was a staunch white supremacist who hated civil rights and strongly opposed desegregation. For example, when the Civil Rights Act passed through Congress in 1964, Helms denounced it as “the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced.” After Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Helms said of the students at Duke University who held a vigil to mourn King’s passing; “They should ask their parents if it would be all right for their son or daughter to marry a Negro.” Adding insult to injury, Helms was the only senator to vote against making the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, and staged a 16-day filibuster against it. “The legacy of Dr. King was really division, not love,” he said at the time, labeling King an “action-oriented Marxist”. Helms’ senate races were always narrow victories that depended heavily upon racist rhetoric to motivate white racists to the polls to vote for him. For example, he campaigned for his senate seat by appealing to “white fear” by loudly trumpeting things like “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 [his Democratic opponent at the time] favors mingling of the races.”
- He hated women and he especially hated allowing them the right to choose, regardless of whether they were Americans or not, by adding an amendment to the 1973 Foreign Assistance Act that prevented American money from going to international family planning organizations that, in his words, “provide or promote” abortion. In America, he introduced a constitutional amendment to ban abortions, comparing it to the Holocaust.
- He hated academic freedom and all free thinking and free speech in general. For example, Helms led an ill-fated attempt to take over CBS, exhorting conservatives to buy up stock to stop what he said was a liberal bias in its news reporting. Additionally, he filibustered to have an amendment that would have added forcing prayer in the schools to a bill that defined national standards for education, and he was against funding smaller classes in public schools, thereby perpetuating intellectual classicm.
- He hated preserving the environment. Helms aggressively supported drilling for oil in ANWR, ending CAFE fuel efficiency standards, defunding renewable and solar energy research, and he3 supported increased funding for road building in National Forests.
- He absolutely hated communism in any shape or form. He co-authored the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which penalized companies doing business with Cuba — even when those companies were based in Canada. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Those people [who] are so eager to deal with the bloody Fidel Castro remind me of a guy named Neville Chamberlain,” said Helms. “Remember that name? He was the British prime minister who went over to Munich in the 1930’s and sat down with Adolf Hitler.” Of course, Helms was mightily confused because Hilter was not a communist at all, he was an extreme right-wing dictator. Helms also backed the contra rebels in Nicaragua who were seeking to overthrow the Marxist-led regime of Daniel Ortega; and he backed right-wing authoritarians who ran death squads in El Salvador, and he supported the military in Guatemala.
So I ask you, are we all better off now that this man is dead?