How's that old joke go? "You should only say good things about the dead. Well, he's dead. Good."
Jesse Helms died on July 4. Some people might say that's fitting, since he was sincerely patriotic. I'm willing to say right now that those people are racist by default.
You have to appreciate that Jesse Helms was a man who stuck to his principles. Sick, twisted, evil principles, but still...
He was so openly racist that people apparently gave him a pass based on... hell, I don't know, entertainment value? They couldn't believe he'd actually said it? He once referred to the University of North Carolina (UNC) as the "University of Negroes and Communists".
He said things like, "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."
"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."
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."
When there were political protests in Mexico, where he was investigating as to whether or not there might be communists in Central America (because he was so talented that he could just sniff them out, apparently), he said "All Latins are volatile people. Hence, I was not surprised at the volatile reaction." (My grandmother used to call them "Latins," too)
Probably his signature quote would have to be "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."
But it didn't have to be skin color. He'd cheerfully hate a man for loving another man. "There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy."
"I've never heard once in this chamber anybody say to the homosexuals, 'stop what you're doing.' If they would stop what they're doing there would not be one additional case of AIDS in the United State."
"The New York Times and the Washington Post are both infested with homosexuals themselves." He went on to say that the Washington Post "caters to homosexual groups. Just about every person down there is homosexual or lesbian."
He only liked other politicians if they were conservative, and not even all of them. "I didn't come to Washington to be a yes man for any president, Democrat or Republican," he said in an interview in 1989. "I didn't come to Washington to get along and win any popularity contests."
His run-ins with Ted Kennedy were legendary: "Let me adjust my hearing aid. It could not accommodate the decibels of the Senator from Massachusetts. I can't match him in decibels or Jezebels, or anything else apparently."
He once passive-aggressively threatened Bill Clinton, saying that the military hated him (a charge that the military refuted, incidentally). He said that Bill Clinton "better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard."
But he also once said, "...in the l8 years and 5 months I've been in the senate, none, none have been more capable than Dan Quayle." Which shows how polarized his thinking was; Quayle was only marginally more literate than George Bush.
About democracy: "Democracy used to be a good thing, but now it has gotten into the wrong hands." (Presumably the hands of slants, beaners, niggers and homosexuals)
He even had room to hate the little things in life: "If God had wanted us to use the metric system, Jesus would have had 10 apostles."
He once sent out a mailer to his constituents that said "Your tax dollars are being used to pay for grade school classes that teach our children that CANNIBALISM, WIFE-SWAPPING, and the MURDER of infants and the elderly are acceptable behavior." (I bet nobody slept through that class.)
I've actually heard the statement "Well, he was racist, but that's a sign of when he was born. He gave up all that later in life." Crap. He just hid it better. He learned not to use racist labels in public, but he still had the philosophy.
He made a TV ad for his 1990 election campaign: it showed a pair of white hands tearing up a rejection letter; the voiceover said, "You needed that job and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of racial quotas. Is that really fair? Harvey Gantt says it is." Harvey Gantt, in case it isn't obvious enough, is black.
When he was opposed by Gantt again in 1996, he paid for a series of ads that accused Gantt of taking advantage of minority privileges to get contracts for his business from the state.
In 1992, when Carol Moseley-Braun became the first black woman to sit in the Senate (and the only black senator at the time), Helms told Orrin Hatch, "Watch me make her cry. I'm going to make her cry. I'm going to sing Dixie until she cries." Then he followed her onto an elevator, talked about how good things were before slavery was abolished, and started singing that great anthem to picking cotton on the plantation, Dixie.
The man was a classless act. I don't think that it's possible to say enough bad things about him. If there is an afterlife and a just God, Helms will hit the Pearly Gates and get handed a shoe-shine kit. And the first pair of shoes he'll shine will be Martin Luther King's. And then maybe Malcolm X.