Our very own state Republican Party downplays the memory of Jesse Helms — despite the fact that HE was a tremendous force in making the GOP a power player in eastern North Carolina. The vile knuckle-draggers in the N&O and Charlotte Observer newsrooms did their best to smear him with epithets like ‘racist,’ bigot,’ ‘homophobe’ — BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.
I had the privilege of spending nearly two years of my life in close proximity to the man in Washington, DC. I had a chance to observe him away from the media and the public. And he was nowhere near what the vile drive-bys portrayed him to be.
The current-day media is on a tear about Joe Biden being cozy with “old-school” racist senators. Here’s The NY Times lumping Helms in with that group:
Joseph R. Biden Jr. was addressing an elite audience, describing how as a young senator he had learned to work with Jesse Helms, the right-wing North Carolinian known for his fierce opposition to civil rights and his open loathing of gay people.[…]
I know of at least two gay people who worked several years on Helms’s personal staff. They kept their personal lives PERSONAL and PRIVATE. They refused to go along with the radical agenda of groups like ACT-UP and Queer Nation. And they got nothing but professional respect from the boss.
Helms directed quite a bit of ire at the idiots from Act-Up and Queer Nation. They did things like erect and inflate a giant condom over his DC area home, and held sit-ins in his office (which included intimidating the staff, and decorating the walls with gay porn). I’ve never known antagonism as an effective tactic for winning someone over to your cause.
Helms’s longtime chief of staff, Clint Fuller, once told me that a grand total of THREE black people had ever applied for jobs with Helms. Two of them — civil rights legend James Meredith and press secretary Claude Allen — got hired.
Meredith, as you may or may not know, is most famous for integrating the University of Mississippi. He was the first black student to enroll. He needed a National Guard escort to register for classes, and was pelted with bricks and bottles during his walk to the registrar’s office. I guess “fierce opposition to civil rights” — in media speak — is confined to opposing the drivel that pours out of the mouths of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and The Round Rev.
I interacted quite a bit with constituents / tourists who were in town from North Carolina. We’d help set them up with tickets to The White House, a private tour of The Capitol, or anything else they needed. Whenever possible, it was arranged for Helms to “drop by” with the visitors, shake a few hands, and pose for pictures.
I couldn’t begin to tell you how many people — after he left the vicinity — said things to me like: “Wow. He really is a good man. He’s not at all like they say he is on the news.”
(No kidding. )
[…] He once believed Mr. Helms had “no redeeming social value,” Mr. Biden said, until a senior Democratic senator chided him, explaining that Mr. Helms and his wife had adopted a disabled teenager.
It was a moment of revelation, Mr. Biden said.
“It’s awful hard having to reach across the table and shake hands,” he said. “No matter how bitterly you disagree, though, it is always possible if you question judgment and not motive.”[…]
“No redeeming social value,” eh? And this is coming from a man with a record of plagiarizing speeches and sitting beside pants-optional Ted Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee as they tag-teamed Republican judicial nominees with slander and all kinds of other abuse?
[…]The audience was Yale University’s graduating class of 2015. Mr. Biden delivered the speech as the sitting vice president of the United States. His remarks on Mr. Helms, who died in 2008, stirred not a hint of controversy.
As Mr. Biden seeks the White House four years later, his reminiscences about working with hard-line reactionaries — including segregationists like James O. Eastland and Herman Talmadge — have provoked an entirely different response. His evident nostalgia for forging compromises, even with racist figures like them, touched off a disruptive new controversy for his campaign, as liberal leaders and Democratic rivals accused him of being insensitive and out of touch. […]