Jesse Helms passed away. Normally, the announcement of the death of a retired senator wouldn't rate much more than a "Hmm, really?" from me. But this is Jesse Helms. I'm sure there are tons of right-wing writers that will sing the praises of Helms and talk about how appropriate it is that such a fine patriot expire on the 4th of July(unless you're on the west coast) and laud him for threatening Bill Clinton. And this is why I feel like I should also say some things.
I first became politically aware in 1990, when Jesse Helms was running some of the most overtly racist ads in the history of history. At 11 years old, I able to pick this out, and my earliest political opinions were formed so that I could be against whatever that tremendous douchebag was for.
He played on North Carolinians fears of anything different to the tune of five terms in the US Senate. For a long time, he was the first thing that anyone from out of state could identify about North Carolina when I met them. It was more than a little embarrassing.
Put simply, his legacy is one of xenophobia. His death shouldn't allow people to forget that.
I suppose I could say something nice about him, too. My mom, ever looking to find the good in anyone, would always cite the story of Helms using his stroke to get a friend of hers his lost passport replaced in a very short amount of time. She liked to tell this story and say that he at least tried to take care of the North Carolinians he embarrassed on a daily basis while in office.
I'm certain that this friend of hers was very white and very straight.
UPDATE: Catie Braly has brought to my attention that the URL to the WRAL story about Helms' death is kinda funny. If it's been discovered and corrected, here's the screenshot so you can read for yourself. It's totally worth it. Thanks, Catie.