Friday, July 04, 2008

Jesse Helms, RIP

If you were born after 1980 you probably will have only vague memories of United States Senator Jesse Helms. Some of you may only have heard of his name (for this group, that means in some lefty meat-grinding blog, The Nation magazine, Mother Jones, or The New Republic).

I have commented a lot lately, here and elsewhere, about the differences between political conservatives and philosophical conservatives...the latter being "authentic." Jesse Helms was the last of his breed where those two worlds, politics and philosophy, met. He and RR were the last of this ilk.

My Capitol Hill career was on the House side. But I did get to work with Senator Helms and his staff. He was inspirational to a young conservative back then. He had courage. He was a hero to many of us idealists.

There was plenty of stereotype in him to make fun of...hard southern drawl, jowls, thick glasses. But he was one tough SOB...principled, verbose, plain. And he was kind.

Today's politicians are not even half the man Senator Helms was. I was privileged to work for the two of the most conservative members of the House (probably ever). There are not many other Representatives or Senators I would have worked for -- Jesse Helms was one of them.


Anonymous said...

I agree 100%. I would add Sheryl Allen and Steve Mascaro, founders of the Utah Reagan Caucus, to your list.

Adam said...


I understand what it takes to admire the character of a man while reconciling his distateful qualities with one's own moral code. But there are aspects of Jesse Helms' character that are reprehensible, and beyond forgivable. I question how easily you could look past the blatent racism that he displayed well into his Senate career. He was a bigoted, mean man, no matter how well he was liked by his family, friends and the conservative movement.

"Soon after the Senate vote on the Confederate flag insignia, Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) ran into [Senator] Moseley-Braun [a black woman] in a Capitol elevator. Helms turned to his friend, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), and said, "Watch me make her cry. I'm going to make her cry. I'm going to sing 'Dixie' until she cries." He then proceeded to sing the song about the good life during slavery to Mosely-Braun (Gannett News Service, 9/2/93; Time, 8/16/93)"

Paul Mero said...

Adam...objection...speculation...lack of foundation. Don't believe everything you read in newspapers...and don't accept as gospel something that probably has a broader context than the story.

And don't write me back that, "Context? Does racism have a context that makes it acceptable?" like so many of you folks like to do. Again, I challenge the veracity of the story...not to mention any kind of collegial poking that goes on between political opponents. Some of the responses I receive on Amicus to my comments, if I took them without a sense of humor, would lead me at times to notify authorities to protect my safety and the safety of my family. (Being one of the few people who actually post my real, full name.)

I knew when I posted this that someone (perhaps many of you) would go into the proverbial "quote file" and pick up some story or some comment made by Helms in an attempt to dismiss a heartfelt sympathy for another human being.

Those sorts of demeaning efforts are what I mean when I say "the left has politicized everything." A guy can't even post a simple, if inarticulate, eulogy without having some hater crap on it.

And btw, while I am no angel in this respect and have many of the same frailities at times that I criticize, you don't see me posting regular comments on Amicus about all of the Democratic candidates promoted herein that I could easily skewer. It's just not good form, in my opinion.

Helms not only was a fine man, he had a good sense of humor. Senator Moseley-Braun would understand him completely. I'm sure she got digs into him regularly...and that they both laughed together.

Lighten up.

Jason The said...

Paul, I will gladly second your notion that Helms is an icon conservative leadership, as we've known it so far. But, are you sure you want that?

Though I don't relish in his passing, the day he resigned the House got a little less crazy.

I know it's our nature to glorify the dead, and paint a rosy picture of their deeds, but Helms "legacy" is at best exemplified by bigotry, lunatic notions about foreign policy, and tobacco subsidies.

Doesn't sound like a hero to me.

Adam said...


I am willing to concede that the story has a wider context that I'm not privy to. But that fact that there even is a "quote file" chalk full of racist garbage from Helms gives me pause. If the story that I posted doesn't give me foundation, then there are countless others I can choose from. That Helms would persist in such a racist attitude well into the 90s is, I think, great cause for concern. That you could gloss over this character flaw without qualification is disingenuous and counterproductive to your promotion of conservatism.

Paul Mero said...

Fellows, the whole racist thing is unbecoming of you guys (at least you Jason, who I know somewhat). You really don't want to go there with Obama, Rev. Wright, and the good church hate-whitey standing off to the side. And I am not going there.

Helms was not Thurmond. Helms was born in the south in the 1920s. I cannot deny he was the product of his environment not wholly defined by prejudice btw (at least no more than any liberal is stereotyped and wholly defined by government spending and some of the craziest policy ideas in modern history...that, again btw, do much more actual harm to more Americans than any one bigot could ever do).

Let me leave it here: okay, I understand what you are saying. Good points. I actually knew him, worked with him and his staff, and I disagree with your characterization of him.

He was not a racist from 1987 to 1997 when I worked along side of him...and I have heard/read of worst "bigotry" from bleeding heart liberals throughout American history...for instance, the history of American public schools is full of racist laws, policies, and sentiments...some of it quite current history in Utah's public schools. But we don't want to talk about that.

So let it sit here: good points fellows...something in your words for me to think about and learn from. Nonetheless, Helms was a conservative icon worthy of the label and I am proud to have known him and worked with him.

Anonymous said...

Well, I worked for Senator James Buckley, (R-NY) and while both were conservative Republicans, Buckly was respected for his intellect and work ethic. From what I heard, Helms was not believed to hve either quality.

Anonymous said...

To Helms' passing, GOOD RIDDANCE. Enjoy facing Christ at the judgement seat.

Jason The said...

Paul, to assert that I cannot call a bigot a bigot (of which Helms was undoubtedly a card carrying member of the club) because of the Obama/Wright (pointless) controversy is not even logical.

Wright was not a Senator. Obama went to his church. I would not want to take responsibility for what every Bishop or church leader I have known had to say (believe it or not, I've met a few bigots there too).

You're going to have to find something better than that to tell me I "don't want to go there" because I most certainly do.

Helms was a racist. Period.

I went there.

Jason The said...

Giving it more thought, there is one thing I do have to give Helms credit for.

He championed direct mail campaigning and (though this wasn't a good thing) was very effective at polarizing the political landscape for Republican gain. The Democrats foolishly allowed Helms (et al) to reduce them to oversimplified mis-characterizations that we are still fighting against today.

When it came to campaigning, he was very skilled.

Still a bigot though. So neener.

Paul Mero said...

Ah Jason, no, don't go there. You say Helms is a racist because he associated with the "old South" (for lack of a better general description)...said "racist" things...and never diassociated himself from them.

The Obama scenario is not exact but close. He did eventually disassociate himself from Wright...but who's to say that Helms, if he ran for president, wouldn't have done the same thing regarding the "Old South"?

I suppose you could argue that a black man cannot be a racist, by definition...but that is thin ice.

While I do not mind that you have your opinion of Helms...I guess I do mind that you seem to so easily characterize him as a racist when you didn't know him.

This is much the same feeling I have about the whole Chris Buttars thing. Of all the people who have criticized him, who really knows him? IOW, it seems a bit hypocritical for a self-avowed liberal (not talking about you here) to cast "judgment" (the dreaded "don't judge people") on these men when they don't know them personally. Sorry, that bugs me. Especially when the charge of racism is thrown around so easily.

So, fine, you think he's a racist. I'd find it more credible coming from people who actually knew him and worked with him, especially someone like former Senator Moseley-Braun.

Call anyone whatever name you want. And "go there" even when you must live with the likes of Obama's sense of race ethics. As one who has been called a racist, I think this particular label ought to be tossed around only with some prior thought and first-hand knowledge...not second-hand news stories from political opponents who have something to gain from it.

Just my two cents.