Dead People

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The White Miracle Of America

« July 2008 »

Memo to Jesse Helms: YOU ARE DEAD.

I grew up in the 80s, and developed my politics in the 90s, so I have to say, learning of the death of Jesse Helms inspired me to question one of the core fundamental tenets of my knowledge. Namely, that Jesse Helms hadn't already died. That's how it is with people with no redeeming qualities - when they're not actively making life worse for the rest of us, it's as if they've largely ceased to exist. July 4 just made it official. But that's no reason not to look back in anger at some of Jesse Helms' greatest hits:

HATING ART: Jesse Helms is probably most famous for his publicity-garnering struggle against federal arts funding. It was precisely the kind of "common-sense" stupidity that the Republicans love to trade in. Your tax dollars are paying for pictures of a bullwhip handle up a dude's ass! How can anyone defend that? Well, because by defending that, you're defending the underlying principle under attack, which is that if the government is going to be a patron of the arts, the government needs to be a patron for the kind of art that WOULDN'T be commercially viable. There's already an infrastructure in place to fund art that Jesse Helms approves of. It's called QVC. I believe they've got Thomas Kincaid lithographs coming up next hour.

HATING GAYS: Jesse came from a simpler time, a time before loving the sinner and hating the sin became a code phrase for hating the sinner. These days, if you cut out the dog-whistling and the pleasantries and state outright that a lesbian shouldn't be appointed to Housing and Urban Development because she is a lesbian, you might get into a bit of trouble. At the very least, the left would force you to apologize and the right would send you a free copy of the Acceptable Gay-Bashing Thesaurus. But sure enough, in 1993, Helms objected to a Bill Clinton appointment on those very grounds. ACTUAL POSTMORTEM QUOTE TIME!

"I’m not going to put a lesbian in a position like that. If you want to call me a bigot, fine." Yet even though Helms gave his permission, it appears that the majority of the media are bending over backwards to avoid calling him a bigot. Even though he was a bigot. Which, by the way, brings us to our quintessential Helms remembrance:

HATING BLACK PEOPLE: Would you like to know how big a racist Jesse Helms was? I mean, sure, he opposed the Civil Rights act repeatedly. And supported segregationist candidates. And opposed affirmative action. And stirred up fear of affirmative action to defeat his black opponent in the 1990 election. But all of that pales beside this lovely quote from Bob Dole. I was watching CNN, and Dole was on talking about Helms' death without trying to mention the elephant in the middle of the room wearing a very large white hood with a slit for the trunk cut into the front of it.

"Jesse didn't move as quickly. Other Democrats in the South didn't move as quickly. Were these Southerners racist? I don't know. I don't know how you define racist."

Let's dissect the living shit out of that, shall we? First of all, "didn't move as quickly". In other words, Jesse Helms was a charming anachronism. A bit slow, if you will. I'm guessing that means "kept dropping the N-bomb every time we had him over for dinner." Next, Dole mentions Southern Democrats. Any time a Republican mentions Southern Democrats, you know we're talking about racism. Republicans looooove to mention unreconstructed Dixiecrats because it gives them a false equivalency when it comes to racism. Never mind that most of those Dixiecrats ended up as Republicans once the Dems embraced civil rights.

But that last line is the kicker. Bob Dole doesn't know how to define racism. That's incredibly fucking convenient. Here we are, shortly after the death of one of the Senate's all-time great racists, and Bob Dole, whose wife is sitting in that same racist's Senate seat, is suddenly unable to define racism on cable news. That's great. I wonder if he's never known how to define racism, or if it's a side-effect of all that free Viagra he got for doing those commercials? They should put that on the label. "If you have an erection lasting more than four hours, or manage to forget the meaning or racism, consult your doctor."

Of course Bob Dole knows what racism means. And of course Bob Dole knows Jesse Helms was a screaming fucking racist. And so does everybody else. That's what news stories mean when they call him "controversial", and say he "angered liberals." That's what Trent Lott meant when he said "He had a philosophy, had principles he believed in, and he stood and fought for them.". And I can only assume that's what Dubya meant when he said "Jesse Helms was a kind, decent, and humble man and a passionate defender of what he called 'the Miracle of America.' So it is fitting that this great patriot left us on the Fourth of July."

I will say this - in leaving us, Jesse Helms showed us the most important thing about old, white, racist assholes. That when they die, there are fewer of them left.

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