more on jesse helms

Much has been made of this story, about a North Carolina state employee who retired instead of ordering his department’s flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of Helms’ death. This all has a wonderful Durkheimian quality about it.I particularly liked this letter to the editor, which took the current middle-of-the-road approach: whether or not you agreed with his politics, he was firm in his convictions and you always knew where he stood. (My father in law and I, without prior discussion, both responded in the same way: both of these statements were true of Hitler as well. I don’t mean either to invoke Godwin’s Law or to compare Helms with Hitler, only to point out the stupidity of such pseudo-accolades.) Anyway, the letter points out that the retire-instead-of-lowering-the-flag approach was very similar in style to what others have been complimenting in Helms.

Meanwhile, the perpetual candidate Ralph Nader says the left can learn from Helms’ style: “I think his legacy is that no matter how wrong you are on how many issues, if you stick to it you can win.” Nice.

Finally: the N&O points out that, unlike many long-serving legislators, Helms never won much more than 50% of the state’s vote, which problematizes (a bit) the stain his legacy left on our fine state’s reputation.

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

6 thoughts on “more on jesse helms”

  1. I listened to an interview with this man yesterday on “All Things Considered.” As contemptible as I find Jesse Helms, I found the man to be a bit unreasonable. Firstly, he wasn’t simply an employee who wouldn’t fly the flag at half-mast; he was a supervisor who ordered his employees not to comply with the order. Secondly, it seems to me that his choice of people to take a stand on were somewhat haphazard. He claimed he had a problem flying the flag for Nixon as well because he was a criminal, but didn’t make any mention of Reagan (Iran-Contra, ignoring the AIDS crisis, etc.), JFK (Bay of Pigs), Ford (Pardoning of Nixon), etc.

    Additionally, he claimed that a “good portion” (paraphrasing) of the state’s legacy for racism was due to Helms. I think that’s attributing waaaay too much to Helms. Finally, one certainly must realize that as a government employee, you are going to serve under both parties and there will be some public officials whose politics you dislike. Regardless, the protocol is in place for how these individuals are treated when they die. It is not up to state employees to determine who is and who isn’t worthy of this treatment.


  2. Helms has a special status here in NC – he was the state’s national image for many years, and I think it’s not unreasonable to say that for many his persona rose above one “whose politics you dislike” (or like, for that matter). Just how hateful he was, and how thoroughly he was willing to make that hate the basis of public policy (the famous “lesbian” comment, to wit), might make it appropriate to consider him more than your garden variety political operator.


  3. I accept that Jesse Helms was evil incarnate (and I’m not sure how fine a state NC is for re-elcting him time after time – that said, CA elected Ronald Reagan). But what I find most fascinating is how Bono got Helms to help him fight AIDS in Africa.


  4. I wish that I had added this to my previous comment:

    Sunday, Apr. 30, 2006 By JESSE HELMS – TIME

    When I was first told in 2000 that Bono wanted to meet with me to talk about boosting U.S. aid to Africa, I didn’t know who he was. But my Senate staff certainly did. After so many years in Washington, I had met enough people to quickly figure out who is genuine and who is there for show. I knew as soon as I met Bono that he was genuine. He had his facts in hand and didn’t have any agenda other than doing all he could to help people in desperate need.

    Along with Franklin Graham, Bono, 45, helped me understand the scope of the tragedy in Africa, especially the pain it is bringing to infants and children and their families. Once I understood, I made both men a promise that I would do all I could to help. Senator Bill Frist and I were allies in creating and passing a bill to commit $200 million to fight AIDS in Africa. The challenges are still enormous, but I think there can be a very good future for Africa if the cycles of death, poverty and armed conflict can be overcome.

    I admire Bono’s dedication and his willingness to make decisions. There is no pretense about him. In fact, he has opened himself up to criticism because he has been willing to work with anyone to find help for these children. After our first meeting, he invited me to be his guest at a U2 concert. My grandchildren were only too happy to come along. Bono enjoys telling people that I said watching the audience swaying to the music reminded me of a cornfield rustling in the wind. It was also a reminder of the millions he manages to touch every day with his music and his heart.

    Helms is a former Senator from North Carolina


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