Jesse Helms is dead (sangfroid alert), at long last. (But Charlie Black lives.) The pathway of cultural evolution/enlightenment is often impeded by influential troglodytes too long on the earth and so far behind the Zeitgeist that simple Darwinian EXTINCTION is greatly appreciated. Falwell's gone (thank god?). Sometimes we can't do anything but wait 'em out. Like Javier Bardem's metaphorical embodiment of evil in the Coen Bros. No Country for Old Men (exactly right) , Helms just couldn't seem to be killed off. (There was even a hip-hop song, "Jesse, why don't you hurry up and die?"... I swear) Even now I'll have to hear funereal accolades for the next two weeks on the Raleigh newscasts (and turn away when a file clip shows him doing his Mr.Ed-with-peanut-butter-in-the-mouth speechifying), where reporters call him ad nauseum a conservative icon. Icon, yes, of the neo-nazi politics of hate. Anti-black, -ethnic, -gay, -science, -privacy, -civil-rights, even anti-POOR ("No food stamps for YOU" while at the same time doling out Tobacco subsidies from Agri. Dept. funds")...never "pro" anything except for good ol' Christian white people who hated the same way he did. And this got him elected to the Senate over and over for 30 years.
We were watching from next-door So. Carolina, where we had our own walking-dead dinosaur counterpart, Strom Thurmond, racist extraordinaire, who we now know did Helms one sin better: total hypocrisy. He enjoyed screwing Black Americans figuratively, and as it turns out, literally as well. All of this sort of leads me back to that "southern strategy" I talked about in regard to Gore Jr.&Sr. in an earlier post, and which has obvious and not-so-obvious relevance today. There are some sinister connections.
The Nixon coattails that swept away Gore pere in '68 were still dragging in the dregs in '72 when
Helms was first elected to the Senate. "Vote for Jesse, he's one of US!" was his slogan against a highly-qualified opponent of Greek extraction, and, by extension, against all non-WASPs. Later, fearing that the Reagan coattails in '84 might not do the trick, he again played the southern-white-bias card in portraying the estimable Gov. Jim Hunt as too cozy with that other Jesse and with minority voter registration. He also fillibustered against the MLK holiday on the floor of the Senate. Didn't hurt. He narrowly beat the much better man. The '90 campaign (Boy, I thought we had him there) was more subtle. It could afford to be. He was running against a BLACK MAN, the very popular Charlotte (our 'big city" from where we lived in SC) mayor Harvey Gantt. So Helms and his managers dressed-up the racism in the guise of anti-Affirmative Action. His TV spots subliminally said, "White people! Vote for Gantt, lose your job." I feel sad about his death, because he was able to live out his loathsome life avoiding the utter disgrace he deserved (and so it was, unfortunately, with Strom Thurmond, too).
Now behold the rats in the cellar: I just learned a few days ago that one Charlie (irony alert) Black was Helms' chief stategist for the '84 and '90 race-card campaigns. Now the former lobbyist associated with the Ad-Firm of Burton-Marsteller (!) is, since March, the CHIEF ADVISOR--helmsman, so to speak-- to the McCain campaign! So beware Barack Obama, Mr. multi-racial, (usually) progressive candidate for president...the Helmsian dirty work could be already afoot.