No Senator No

Jesse Helms has died.

I suppose I could follow the old dictum of not saying anything at all if I can't say something nice, but speaking as a native of the town Helms once urged the state to put a fence around by way of creating a state zoo, and a graduate of the institution he called "the University of Negroes and Communists," I don't believe Helms ever followed that dictum himself.

I voted against him in my first national election--1984--and again in 1990, but I was unfortunately living in Virginia and couldn't vote against him one last time in '96.  That's one of the few regrets I still have about moving.  Jesse may have loved his state and his country sincerely, but that love is one of the only things we shared; soon after I acquired my first car (a 1982 Plymouth Horizon that my grandmother left me), I proudly affixed a sticker to its bumper with a caricature of Jesse and the legend "AYATOLLAH HELMS."  To this day, my guitar case bears a blue sticker reading "I'm from North Carolina and I don't support Jesse Helms."  He was in many ways the greatest embarrassment my state provided during my life there; I could be proud of so many North Carolinian things--Dean Smith, Tim McLaurin, Michael Jordan, Ben Folds, Charles Kuralt, you name it--but there was Jesse, a black fly in the Cheerwine.

Today is Independence Day, and I'm sure he'd have been happy to know that his death fell on the birthday of the nation he loved, however misguided I found (and still find) the political principles that guided him, but I can't help wishing he could have held on a little longer, say, until November, or better yet until January, just so that the man who beat Harvey Gantt partly on the strength of the legendary "White Hands" advertisement might have had to witness the sight of the President-elect laying his hand on the Bible for the oath of office.

A black hand.

So today, Jesse Helms is free of the earthly bonds that held him, and we are free of him.  And as we bid him goodbye, let's pray that this is the last Independence Day our nation will have to be bound to the racial politics that he exploited so expertly during his long career.

Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we're free at last.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 4, 2008 5:19 PM.

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