Friday, June 12, 2009

Stupid Thing of the Week: Jesse Helms tribute

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2009 at 11:29 AM

Beginning today, we’re launching an ongoing Friday blog feature called Stupid Thing of the Week, honoring, well, the stupid thing of the week. This week’s winner is the resolution passed by the General Assembly in Raleigh this week, honoring the late Jesse Helms. The resolution praised Helms as "a leading historical figure of our times" who showed an "unyielding commitment to integrity and the principles of faith, freedom, and the power of free enterprise." The Democratic legislative black caucus walked out of the chambers rather than be part of the charade, and Sen. Julia Boseman of Hanover, the state’s only openly gay legislator, was the only member who voted against the bill. As a needed balance to the Stupid Thing of the Week, here’s a quick recap of Helms’ long, sordid, hateful career in politics, which more than anything was based on a virulent strain of unadulterated, ignorant racism — and that doesn’t even begin to touch on his opposition to expanding women's rights, his destructive homophobic tirades, or his short-sighted dinosaur view of the rest of the world that led him to spew some of the most outrageous, hateful invective heard in Congress in the last century.

Helms was re-elected time and time again by scapegoating artists and other "outsiders," ranging from African-Americans to gays and lesbians, while proclaiming in passing that people who die of AIDS deserve what they get. A man seemingly enraged by modern society, Helms spent much of his career careening around the Senate, hissing and stabbing at any sign of progress or cultural diversity, while coming down on the wrong side of important issues that affect North Carolinians. Specifically:

The Environment: Helms voted against almost every environmental bill before the Senate during his terms in office: he voted against the Clean Air Act; restrictions on the production of ozone-depleting chemicals; re-authorizing the Clean Water Act; providing funds to clean up toxic and hazardous waste dumps; funding to manage our natural lands; and he even supported the resumption of clear-cutting in North Carolina's national forests.

Education: Helms repeatedly voted against Head Start, funding for day care, aid to colleges and college students, vocational education programs, funding for handicapped education, and state grants to hire teachers and reduce class size.

Women's Rights: Helms strongly supported a constitutional amendment that would force women to carry a pregnancy to term, regardless of the woman's desires or the circumstances of her impregnation, including rape and incest.

On top of all this, Helms had a lifelong record as a race baiter and opponent of all civil rights bills; he campaigned hard against the National Endowment for the Arts; and, fueled by his hatred of gays, he opposed combating AIDS in this country (although he eventually supported the fight against AIDS in Africa, where most of the victims at least have the decency to be straight). He blocked the appointment of African-American judges in the national court district that is most populated by blacks, and he stymied the appointment of any gays or lesbians to public office.

This is an all-too-brief overview of Jesse Helms' disturbing political history — a history you won’t find referred to in the General Assembly resolution honoring him. For their collective bout of amnesia concerning what Helms stood for, and stood against, NC legislators get the inaugural Stupid Thing of the Week Award.

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