Ding-Dong, Jesse Helms is Dead
BY Choire Sicha
July 30 2008 12:00 AM ET
Falwell, now Jesse Helms. One by one, the famous bigots of
America are contributing their best (and last) service to
this nation’s progress -- they’re dying.
Helms, the former
North Carolina senator who passed away July 4, was born
in 1921 -- three years after World War I ended and the year
Adolf Hitler became leader of the Nazi Party.
Indoctrinated in hatred decades before the civil
rights era, Helms was known to whistle racist songs to black
elected officials, and, as evidenced by transcripts from any
number of Senate hearings, he had an amazing obsession
with butt sex. (“There is not one single case
of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in
origin to sodomy” typifies his thoughts on the
matter.) As can happen to the luckiest of men,
Helms’s fetishes sometimes coalesced into one
exciting orgy, as when he led the charge against government
funding of Robert Mapplethorpe’s
In a tribute in
July, President Bush described Helms as an
“unwavering champion of those struggling for
liberty.” I can’t say Bush’s praise
surprised me, but the Helms I remember was less devoted to
liberty than he was to simply making other
people’s lives miserable.
vociferously making gay people his target, the gentleman
from North Carolina ended up accomplishing the
opposite of what he set out to do: He not only made us
sympathetic, he made us stronger, prodding us to
organize among ourselves and with the other
evildoers—including the abortion-havers and the
immigrants who want to take your jobs.
Folks like Helms
will always exist, because hatred is the easiest route
to infamy. But Helms seduced a population that has shrunk,
and he represented a certain mind-set that has passed.
That’s why religious bigots like Fred Phelps of
“God Hates Fags” fame look like madmen, not
prophets. Helms championed a view of America that aged and
declined as he did. And it’s probably better
that the senator died when he did. If he had stayed
around for this November’s presidential election, a
victory by a black man probably would have killed him.
Now that Helms is
gone, there doesn’t really seem to be anyone who can
successfully carry on his life’s work. All the other
tyrannical titans are either dead or close to it.
Falwell, the preacher and Hustler-suing monster who
was nearly as terrible and insanely bigoted as Helms (but a
bit busier lining his own pockets), died last year. And
Anita Bryant, who famously helped repeal a 1970s
Florida ordinance that banned discrimination based on
sexual orientation, is now 68 and never really heard
from (on account of the bankruptcies and tacky concert