Today as we gather with friends and family to drink prodigious amounts of beer, eat genetically-created tube steaks, and drunkenly fire dangerous and illegal rockets into the air to celebrate Independence Day, we are confronted with the loss of an American icon, former Senator Jesse Alexander Helms Jr. Helms, 86, passed away peacefully in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Born in Monroe, North Carolina, Jesse was the son of Sheriff “Big Jesse” Helms and mother Dot. He attended Wingate Junior College for a few months before dropping out, but did receive honorary degrees from the prestigious Bob Jones University (not to be confused with The Bob Jones Golf Camp – though Jesse might have also gone there), and Grove City College (where I believe he was awarded an honorary Phd in air conditioning repair). Helms’ alma mater Wingate would also honor him years later, opening the Jesse Helms Center, primarily with funding from the tobacco lobby (who Jesse whole-heartedly supported while Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Commitee in the 1980’s). In 2005, Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University (one of the nation’s leading think-tanks of anti-thinking) opened the Jesse Helms School of Government.
Yes, Jesse was best known as Senator Helms, serving as a Senator from North Carolina for over thirty years. During his tenure he served as Chairman of The Committee on Foreign Relations, and Chairman of The Senate Committees on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry.
During his three decades in politics Senator Helms was known for his often controversial positions, and I contacted his nephew, Goober Helms, former proprietor of Goober’s Auto Repair, and now the curator of The Jesse Helms Museum of Intolerance (located in two of the former service bays of Goober’s Auto Repair), to gain a little insight on his Uncle’s career.
Question – Goober, what would you say are Senator Helm’s greatest accomplishments while serving in the Senate?
Goober – That’s a hard one, because Uncle Jesse did so much. He was never afraid to speak his mind. For instance, we’re all really proud of the way he stood up for the tobacco industry. He fought all this propaganda about smoking being bad for you, and managed to raise huge amounts of campaign financing from RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris.
Question – What about the frequent accusations your Uncle was a racist?
Goober – Ridiculous. Jesse was just standing up for the American people. He was the first to let the world know that Martin Luther King was a communist, and that’s why he opposed making his birthday a national holiday. We shouldn’t be celebrating a commies birthday’s in this country, be they black, white, or yellow – but especially if they are black or yellow. And Uncle Jesse was a pioneer in opposing affirmative action! He didn’t want to see the white man taken advantage of.
Question – That explains why he once ran a television commercial showing a white man’s hands crumpling a job rejection letter because the employer “had to hire a less qualified minority”?
Goober – Yep, Uncle Jess was a smart one!
Question – How about the fact that he once turned to his friend Senator Orin Hatch while riding an elevator, and after gesturing at African American Senator Carol Mosley-Braun, told Hatch he was “going to sing Dixie until he made her cry”.
Goober – “laughing” Yep – that’s Jesse. By the way, did you ever hear him sing Dixie? It would make anyone cry.
Question – Your Uncle seemed to have an affection for murderous dictators. I couldn’t help but notice that he was a big supporter of Chilean dicator Augusto Pinochet, and he was also closely tied-in with Salvadoran Death Squad Leader Roberto D’Aubuisson.
Goober – Jesse thought those fellows were getting a bad rap. Roberto might have killed a lot of people, but in his heart he was a deeply religious man.
Question – Your Uncle also compared abortion to the Holocaust, blocked payments to the UN, and was a staunch critic of gay rights.
Goober – Yep, we’re sure gonna miss Jesse!
One of Senator Helm’s final salvos while still in the senate was to infer that President Bill Clinton might be assassinated if he came to his state. “Clinton better now show up here without a bodyguard”, he told equally classy news commentator Robert Novak.
Perhaps it is somewhat fitting that this American patriot says his final farewell on July 4th.
Authors note: Believe it or not, essentially all the facts cited above are true – except the part Jesse receiving a Phd in air condition repair. I have no idea if Grove City College offers a Phd. And the part about Goober. I am not sure if he exists as I did not talk to him, nor do I know if there is really a Jesse Helms Museum of Intolerance – though there probably should be. Happy 4th!