Jesse


Since my fellow NC bloggers “are”:http://www.apostropher.com/blog/archives/002520.html “covering”:http://stinging-nettle.blogspot.com/2005_06_01_stinging-nettle_archive.html#111833788611497574 “Jesse’s”:http://www.robustmcmanlypants.org/blog/pivot/entry.php?id=435 “new”:http://phillybri.blogspot.com/2005/06/helms-integration-didnt-need-to-be.html memoirs, I’ll chip in a couple of words here.

When Jesse dies, I won’t dance or shout for joy. Having him die will not bring joy into my life. That he will die is predetermined because he, like me, is made of flesh and blood. However, I do see him as a big symptom of something wrong in our government and this society.

During the first 15 years of my life, I lived in an area of NC where support for Jesse was unshakeable. When it came to the Senate race, my county and most surrounding counties were solidly red. To vote for someone else, even beloved Jim Hunt, over Jesse Helms was almost as bad a sin as being a homosexual, even if everyone else you voted for was a Democrat (and usually the state winners were Democrats while the national winners were Republicans).

The mentality that led to this was scary. “Protect the tobacco farmers!” “I smoke and I vote!” “The Democrats are going to take away our cigarettes and turn our kids into homosexuals!”

To be sure, Jesse had his good qualities. If you were white, and you had a problem with a government agency, all you had to do was call Jesse’s office and the following days you would get a call back from a meek-sounding government employee saying that your problem was straightened out. This fit in well with the “write Congress even if you stub your toe at your doctor’s” mentality that came out of the Depression and post-Depression area, people who were 40-70 years old during the reign of Jesse. He knew his constituents, and played very well with them.

But in all, Jesse’s reign can be summed up with one word: fear. Fear of the Liberals, the Gays (who were often exactly the same as the Liberals when it suited him), the Tax Man coming to take away the farm, the Abortionists.

And so when Jesse says that he regrets his stance on AIDS(Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in Africa because obviously a whole continent of “Negroes” can’t be gay, it rings hollow in my ears. Because you see, the root problem isn’t solved. Jesse’s hatemongering of gays and lesbians contributed to a problem that possibly killed millions, or at least made the quality of life worse than it could have been for them. The web of life, if you want to call it that, connects us all — black, white, gay, straight, homeless and poor, and rich. A policy that attacks, or plays on fears of, one group damages us all. And that’s the lesson that Jesse has proven that he hasn’t learned.

So I’m glad Jesse’s writing his memoirs. Let it serve as a warning for generations to come.

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