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Saturday, July 05, 2008

A Fitting Obituary

Goodbye Senator Helms.

From the Guardian UK:
Senator Jesse Helms, member of the US Senate's foreign relations committee for two decades and its chairman from 1995 to 2001, has died at the age of 86. To echo this newspaper's memorable comment on the death of William Randolph Hearst, it is hard even now to think of him with charity. From his earliest years, Helms's attitudes recalled those of an earlier southern bigot, Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, who so outraged his Senate colleagues, that they eventually refused even to let him take his seat....

...He became one of the most powerful and baleful influences on American foreign policy, repeatedly preventing his country paying its UN contributions, voting against virtually all arms control measures, opposing international aid programmes as "pouring money down foreign rat holes", and avidly supporting military juntas in Latin America and minority white regimes in Southern Africa.

In domestic politics he denounced the 1964 Civil Rights Act as "the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress", voted against a supreme court justice because she was "likely to uphold the homosexual agenda", acted for years as spokesman for the large tobacco companies, was reprimanded by the justice department and the federal election commission for electoral malpractice, and compiled a dismal personal record as a slum landlord....

...His allegations were often mind-numbingly bizarre. "Your tax dollars are being used," he claimed in one letter, "to pay for grade school classes that teach our children that cannibalism, wife-swapping, and the murder of infants and the elderly are acceptable behaviour."...

...What is beyond question is the malign impact of Helms's innovation on all subsequent American politics. He inaugurated the age of massive back-door political donations, now euphemistically known as "soft money". In his own 1984 re-election battle, he spent $16.5m, then the most expensive Senate campaign in American history (and the federal election commission twice penalised him for using illegal contributions). Sixteen years later, a New Jersey candidate would lavish $60m on gaining a Senate seat, making it evident how effectively Helms's initiative had opened political office to the highest bidder.

It had also bankrolled the rise of the religious right and its effective takeover of the Republican party. That in turn polarised the entire American electorate, as the results in 2000 so dramatically demonstrated.

With Helms's agenda moving into the political mainstream — opposition to abortion, gun control, foreign entanglements, multicultralism, social welfare, educational reform and a host of other liberal policies — millions of voters dropped out and the rest divided evenly into mutually hostile camps....

...Helms finally lost his chairmanship of the foreign relations committee when the moderate Vermont Republican Senator James Jeffords, lost patience with the Bush administration in May 2001. His defection to the Democrats secured their control of the Senate and of all its legislative committees.

This sudden loss of power, allied to his failing health, at last convinced Helms that it was time to give up. In August that year, he announced he would not run again when his term expired in 2002.

Though there was dismay in North Carolina, his decision was greeted with relief by most of the country. The New York Times observed: "Few senators in the modern era have done more to resist the tide of progress," and Robert Pastor, whose ambassadorship to Panama was scuppered by Helms in 1995, commented that, "nothing Jesse Helms did in his entire career will enhance America's national security more than his retirement."

He is survived by his wife Dorothy, two daughters and a son.
Sidenote: Hagiography is a scourge upon the nations.

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