Jesse Helms

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

For years, I lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a few miles from UNC, the University of North Carolina, which former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) once called, "the University of Negroes and Communists."

Helms, who died on Friday, didn't have many supporters in my hometown. Fans? Forget about it. When North Carolina politicians decided to build a state zoo, Helms questioned the expenditure. Couldn't we just build a fence around Chapel Hill?, he asked.

His loyal base lived in towns like Hobgood, Macclesfield, and Lucama, in eastern North Carolina. (Many of his supporters were farmers, of tobacco and hogs, especially.) Helms was, he said, one of them: a member of North Carolina's working class, raised to believe that homosexuality was deplorable, abortion was unconscionable, and communism had to be defeated. His critics argued that he was deplorable, bigoted and racist.

In 1990, Helms ran for reelection against Harvey Gantt, a Charlotte architect-turned-mayor. Down in the polls, Helms made this commercial:

It is an ad that no North Carolinian, Helms supporter or not, can forget.

John Fund, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, calls Helms "the uncompromisingly defiant exemplar of [modern conservatism]." Do you agree? If you live — or lived — in North Carolina, did you vote for Helms? What made him so electable?

Comments

 

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As a North Carolina native - someone who has lived in several states, I have felt the sting and blow of the negative impact Jess Helms tenure had on my beloved home state. "Conservative" or "liberal," one must admit that Helms' antiquated views on race and sexuality only contributed to the South's negative legacy. Helms' does not represent North Carolina. I am saddened by his legacy.

Sent by Becca | 2:46 PM | 7-7-2008

As a born-and-bred Democrat, I gotta say this about Jesse Helms...
He did not mince words, He did not worry about "Political Correctness."
He was a Good-Ol'-Boy from the South.
He did not Lie about his feelings...
You new where he stood!

Sent by Arthur | 2:50 PM | 7-7-2008

Another comment, as I listen to this program, I find that Mr. Fund is apologizing for and/or putting into "context" Mr. Helms' homophobia. Simply b/c many Californians, or North Carolinians for that matter, do not like homosexuals does NOT excuse Mr. Helms' bigotry. Trying to make Mr. Helms out to be a positive political figure is simply outrageous, he was divisive and treated more than one group of Americans like second class citizens.

Sent by Becca | 2:52 PM | 7-7-2008

I lived in NC during part of Jessie Helms' reign, including the race against Gantt. I recall a public comment he made (I think late in the race as Gantt was polling well) something to the effect of "Well, Harvey Gantt has been seen hanging around with homosexuals, so what are we supposed to think about that?" I see that sort of specific issue-baiting as emblematic of not only Helms, but much of modern politics. What really disturbs me is not so much that anyone would say it, but that it works (to gain votes) time and again, which of course is exactly why people like Helms et al. make such statements. I do, however, admire his principled stands, even though I disagreed with virtually 100% of his opinions. I wish some liberal politicians would have such spine, but I'd rather see real political debate from both sides rather than name calling and personal attacks and innuendo.

Sent by Bill Henley | 2:53 PM | 7-7-2008

Couldn't have happened to a worse guy, go join Strom Thurman and Jerry Falwell, and Jesus. Well 2 out of three anyway.

Sent by Pete | 2:53 PM | 7-7-2008

You made a mistake in just having John Fund on about Jesse Helms.

You needed someone who would not whitewash the record of Jesse Helms, who would remind Fund that Helms was one of the strongest supporters of the repressive apartheid government in South Africa at the same time he was condemning Mugabe.

I hope you'll at least have someone on a future show who is critical of Helms such as Armistead Maupin who worked for Helms at his radio station or Rick Pearlstein wrote about how Helms used radio http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D04E5DC1031F935A1575BC0A9679C8B63

By just having Fund on, you didn't really put the life of Jesse Helms in context.

Sent by Steve Rhodes | 2:58 PM | 7-7-2008

Come on, Call this guy out. He is out bending, and belittling others to improve Helm's image. He one one re-election by ten points 30 years ago? Stand up to him. Guy, you need to stand up for the truth.

Sent by Paul | 3:01 PM | 7-7-2008

Someone on the show seemed to praise Senator Helms by saying "You might disagree with him, but you always knew where he stood" (paraphrase). Well, you could say the same about Hitler, but that does not make him admirable.

Sent by Chris Groner | 3:01 PM | 7-7-2008

I found the columnist to be very defensive - he cut callers who challenged him. There is a difference about having certain views in the 60's and continuing to raise the same racist views in his speeches up to his death.

Sent by marikay canaga litzau | 3:03 PM | 7-7-2008

Helms was full of hate, and it's laughable that the clown being interviewed 'tip-toed' around the issue by trying to make Helm's racism relatively less compared to bigger political bigots! I pray that his family has peace, but I think that the less hate that there is on earth - the better!

Sent by Keith | 3:06 PM | 7-7-2008

How did an arch conservative (Libertarian?) get time on NPR? John Lund used pejorative terms to describe Democrats, liberals, the government (corrupt I believe he said) and not once was he challenged. Such bias doesn't belong on NPR, especially following a discussion during the same hour talking about a need to be more tolerant of other views.

Sent by John Williams | 3:07 PM | 7-7-2008

This segment on Jesse Helms was sickening. Why give voice to a white defender of Jesse Helm's bigoted persona? I understand you wanting to explore his legacy in less caricatured ways, but the truth remains Jesse Helms hurt a lot of people by being unabashedly racist and utilizing division to win political contests. John Fund was simply an apologist. And towards the end of your show, Funds jumped down a caller's throat (who seemed like an African American from North Carolina - a perspective I would have liked to hear), he did not even let the caller finish his thought!!! The whole segment was appalling. Betting on the obituary of Robert Byrd??? Just in poor poor taste.

Sent by Cristina Cantu | 3:07 PM | 7-7-2008

Knowing where Fund sits on the political spectrum it should not surprise anyone to hear his take on Helms. He might want to consider that the possible difference between Byrd, Gore Sr, Ervin, and the others he mentioned who were one time racists/segregationists, from my understanding of history, is that those elected officials publicly repudiated their previous abhorrent racist beliefs and statements or at least discontinued espousing such views, while Helms never did. Since Fund seemed so interested in the contents of Senator Byrd's future obit, I suggest for the first paragraph a reference to Byrd's remarks on the Senate floor arguing against going to war in Iraq.

Sent by Adam | 3:14 PM | 7-7-2008

Today on Talk of the Nation (July 7), John Fund claimed he was trying to provide a fair context of Jesse Helms' career. However, it seemed more about positive spin than objective context. For example, when a caller claimed Helms was racist, John pointed out that senator bird is of a similar mindset, mentioning Birds past affiliation to the KKK. Furthermore, when the host mentioned Jesse's less than kind statements about gays and lesbians, John sites a survey in California that showed a majority against same-sex marriage. In essence, John Fund justified Jesse's behavior by pointing out that other people are racist or homophobic. Sorry, but I don't believe you can justify antagonistic behavior by simply pointing out other people's prejudices.

Sent by Mike | 3:37 PM | 7-7-2008

I love "Talk of the Nation" in general. However, I was disappointed that the host didn't allow the last caller on July 7th, whose name I believe is Dan, to finish his sentence before the guest interrupted him and began talking over him. When the last caller, who seemed to be African American, made the point that Jesse Helms needed to stand on his own regarding Helms' attitudes towards Blacks, it appeared that he wasn't being treated respectfully because the guest didn't let him finish his sentence.

Sent by Kristine M. Fahey | 3:49 PM | 7-7-2008

I have to second a previous comment sent by Paul. Guy did not challenge Fund at all. I don't believe that Neal would not have let Fund get away with as much. Sorry Guy. . .

Sent by Mike | 3:55 PM | 7-7-2008

A pathetic biased spin job to support Jesse Helms. It doesn't belong on NPR. This follows a piece yesterday which praised Rush Limbaugh's long tenure on radio. Inexcusable. People like Limbaugh, Fund, etc. have poisoned the waters of US discourse. And they seem to be proud of it.

Sent by Arnsbarger | 5:39 PM | 7-7-2008

John Fund, your guest for this segment, was a jerk. He cut off callers in mid-sentence, sometimes before they stated their point. He seemed more interested in defending his point of view, than in listening and responding thoughtfully to callers. As for Jesse Helms, goodbye and good riddance.

Sent by R. Badalamente | 6:18 PM | 7-7-2008

Taboo to you:
Why is it imperative we honor a legacy of hate peppered with homiles? Did that make the message of bigotry less or more palpable? And "Good-Ol'-Boy", what the heck does that mean? Is it buba speak for getting a free pass for being an utter embarrassment to this nation and those who have worked so hard to defend the freedoms for which it was founded? Shame on anyone who uses that one as an excuse, it's as outdate as the Helms ideology. Time to close the book on that sad chapter and move on.

Sent by george | 11:30 AM | 7-8-2008

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