July 07, 2008

Kudos to the Washington Post for re-running this 2001 piece by, of all people, David Broder, on the true legacy of the late Jesse Helms. One should be respectful of the friends and family members of the deceased Senator during their time of mourning, and still not shirk the truth, that for most of his public life, Jesse Helms was a blight on American politics, a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot, a man whose politics may finally be getting their final repudiation by the voters in this election.

The fact that he was an unwavering foe of the Soviet Empire gets no credit at this end, no more than I would give Franco or Duvalier or Pinochet such credit; his anti-Communism was based not on a love of freedom and civil liberties, but on his belief that Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and other stalwarts of the fight to end apartheid on this planet were Communists too. That he became more humane at the end of his life has more to do with Bono than any core principles he held. Having lived much of his life in the public sphere, it does a disservice to Helms not to acknowledge the accuracy of what the New Yorker said about him at the time of retirement:
But Helms never bothered with the soft bigotry of low expectations. He has always preferred the hard stuff, undiluted by the branch water of euphemism.