In case you’ve been in a cave somewhere (or, possibly, in Malawi or detained at EWR for having the wrong name or ethnic origin), Jesse Helms died at the beginning of July 4. Various people have been trying to find something actually nice to say about this pig of a man; two of the better attempts at reconstruction are by Rob Christensen and Southern Male Democrat. My own feelings are driven more by this rather extraordinary collection of his finest declarations.
The best many seem to be able to come up with is that he was “important” (of course) or that he really believed in what he stood for. To my mind the latter is hardly a compliment–if you really believe what he stood for, you are, as one commentator said, one of the 19th century’s leading voices. He was a chief architect of crass southern bigotry’s marriage of convenience to religious zealotry and fear that became the Reagan coalition. He remained an unreconstructed bigot throughout his career, always preferring slimy politics and personal vendettas to principle or growth. He was an embarrassment to a fine state.
Jesse, we knew you all too well.